Inter/section/ality

Notes from talk, “An introduction to intersectionality,” given at Seomra Spraoi on 23 April 2014.

Inter/section/ality

Different definitions lead to different applications. Context is important. Intersectionality is a means not an end. (What is the end?)

Origins: Comes from struggle, from the lived experiences of people (mostly women) who experienced oppression/discrimination that felt had multiple origins connected to their class, race, gender and sexual orientation. (Combahee River Collective)

Then, there was an impulse to study these intersections and give the study of these intersections a name. Kimberley Crenshaw did this in 1989 when she coined the term intersectionality. Intersectionality then became  a method for studying the means by which we engage the intersection and overlapping of social identity categories and systems of oppression.

Social identity categories can be: Age, race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, levels of ableness, nationality, visa status, occupation, relationship status, religion/non-religion, dependents, etc.

Social Oppression: Social oppression is a concept that describes a relationship of dominance and subordination between categories of people in which one benefits from the systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice directed toward the other. Because social oppression describes relationships between categories of people, it should not be confused with the oppressive behavior of individuals. In social oppression, all members of a dominant and subordinate categories participate regardless of the individual attitudes or behavior.

Oppression comes from the Latin root opprimere, meaning to “press down.”

Examples: Sexism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, classism, racism, colorism, ableism, lookism, nativism, colonialism, etc.

 

Asks of us to:

Arundhati Roy,  “To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple.”

 Audre Lorde, “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.”

 Intersectionality also asks us to be introspective examine what privileges we have, as well as how it can create forms of oppression for others.

Strategies of resistance/intersectionality and social movements:

  1. Intersectionality can help us to identify ways in which we can build coalitions across single-issue political movements. Examples,LGBTQI, choice, immigration, taxation justice,de-carceration, work place organizing.
    1. Example the queer movement taking up the issues of immigration and economic justice as a way to build a broader coalition.
    2. Sex workers taking on issues of immigration and discrimination based on sexual orientation.
    3. Religious groups using texts and faith practices to make arguments for social justice (think liberation theology).
  2. Contextualize our position in the world relative to others. Ngugi, “Our propensity to action or inaction or to a certain kind of action or inaction, can be profoundly affected by the way we look at the world.”
  3. Countering narratives/telling a different story. Ben Okri, “Discursive change is a precondition for structural change.”
  4. Understanding the relationship between oppression and exploitation.MarthaGimenez responds, “To argue, then, that class is fundamental is not to ‘reduce’ gender or racial oppression to class, but to acknowledge that the underlying basic and ‘nameless’ power at the root of what happens in social interactions grounded in ‘intersectionality’ is class power.”
    1. The working class holds the potential to lead a struggle in the interests of all those who suffer injustice and oppression. This is because both exploitation and oppression are rooted in capitalism. Exploitation is the method by which the ruling class robs workers of surplus value; the various forms of oppression play a primary role in maintaining the rule of a tiny minority over the vast majority. In each case, the enemy is one and the same.
  5. Resistance. Necessitate a transformation of what we understand or value about resistance. Arundhati Roy, “But I think we really need to reimagine nonviolent resistance, because there isn’t any debate taking place that is more important in the world today than the one about strategies of resistance. There can never be one strategy. People are never going to agree about one strategy. It can’t be that while we watch the American war machine occupy Iraq, torture its prisoners, appropriate its resources, we are waiting for this pristine secular, democratic, nonviolent, feminist resistance to come along. We can’t prescribe to the Iraqis how to conduct their resistance, but we have to shore up our end of it by forcing America and its allies to leave Iraq now.”
  6. “White-y on the moon.” International Solidarity Activism post Arab Spring has become redundant.
  7. Calling-out vs. Calling-in: Compassionate vs. confrontational. Audre Lorde, “Hopefully, we can learn from the 60s that we cannot afford to do our enemies work by destroying each other.”
  8. Recognition of our own mortality and the enormity of the struggle WE face.

 

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On Malala Yousafzai & the Importance of Examining Narratives

A lot of folks have asked my opinion recently on Malala Yousefzai and her advocacy for the cause of girl’s education in Pakistan. I come to my opinion purely as a consumer of mainly Atlantic-centric media (or Anglophone media from the perspective of writers in Europe and America), and as an activist.

With that said, I think the lauding of Malala and the recent granting of ‘Malal Day’ at the U.N. is indicative of a particular worldview that has become quite problematical for people who neither support an imperialist nor an Islamo-centric world view. I should be careful to qualify here that I do not see the two as equivalent in terms of the power they yield, but rather that neither has the political acumen nor the interests of ordinary people at heart.

Whilst I do not agree with those folks who I would describe as conspiracy theorists, putting forward the idea that Malala is an agent of the CIA. I do, however, believe based on her public statements, that even at her tender age she promotes a certain vision of the multiple issues at play in Pakistan that is politically useful for those in power in the US, Europe and at the UN. Her desire to advocate for the education of girls in Pakistan is undoubtedly an aim worth supporting, but it does not mean that we cannot have a critical understanding of what she presents and promotes.

It is for this reason that the recent letter written by a Taleban commander, Adnan Rasheed, is of particular importance. My impression from watching news and reading articles is that the letter presents some uncomfortable points of view, and has thus mainly been down played by Malala and the public relations firm that represents her.

Firstly, it is interesting to note that Adnan admits that it was the Taleban who are responsible for shooting Malala and 14 other girls on a bus in Pakistan. This has put to bed critics who claimed that other groups, not the Pakistani Taleban, were responsible. Yet where Malala claims the reason for this attack has to do with her education advocacy, Adnan’s letter puts forward another claim. He writes that girls’ education is long a part of the history of Islamic civilization, and therefore is not contrary to the particular political aims of the Taleban (this of course is questionable). It was, however, Malala’s-in his words- “smear campaign” against the Taleban that provoked the attack on her. Now again for those who might jump on me here, I do not think anyone agrees that a legitimate response to the pronouncements of a young girls can include assassination attempts. The difference of opinion about why Malala was targeted reveals a narrative that is more complex than the story is usually presented to us.

I will not go too far into the politics of present day Pakistan, especially those transpiring in its north-west provinces (sometimes referred to as the ‘tribal areas’), but to say that it is often reported that the Taleban blows up schools, especially girls schools, because they do not wish girls to be educated. However, as Adnan writes, and other media sources reveal, this is not the entirety of the story. It seems to me, rather, that schools are used by both the Pakistani Taleban and the Pakistani army as places to store supplies, plan attacks, etc. Is it convenient for the Pakistani Taleban that some of these schools are also for girls and they can essentially kill two birds with one stone? I would say yes. But I do not think that the campaign in these areas necessarily focuses on bombing girls schools for the sake of it, but like many tactics in a protracted conflict, it is a part of a larger strategy. I do not think the Pakistani government is involved in the Swat region out of some sort of feminist mission, and thus it is necessary to examine these things in further detail.

So if we take for example the perspective of the Pakistani Taleban that Malala was in fact engaged in assisting the Pakistani military in a propaganda war against the Talebs, it puts her claims that she was targeted merely for promoting education for girls into a more complex light.

On another level, we have to remember that this is an area of the world that has been highly politicized and that there are wars being fought on several battlefields at once. The conflict in the Swat Valley of Pakistan is related, though not the same as, the battle in neighbouring Afghanistan. And like Afghanistan there are local, regional, and international stake holders that play their roles in the conflict. Part of the complexity is that in a world where things are so globalized the actions and events on all three of these different levels can affect each other sometimes simultaneously. Just as the situation where the pastor in Florida who wanted to burn the Qur’an brought about riots in cities across Afghanistan, so can the speeches of a 16-year-old girl have reverberations around the world.

Where the rhetoric used by Adnan Rasheed in his letter to Malala comes across to many Atlantic-centric people as anti-Jewish and promoting a Islamo-totalizing view of our collective future. So too, do the words Malala used in her speech at the UN come across as political to many in the Islamic world. The best examples I can give are her using the words Taleban and terrorist interchangeably throughout her speech. I think we have become so used to the media equating the Taleban with terrorism that we almost forget that this framing comes off as pejorative both to the Talebs and to those who see the Taleban as fighting on their behalves. If Malala is a representative of Pakistan, her equating the Taleb fighters as terrorist sends a certain signal to them about the government’s willingness to negotiate with them and the concerns and communities that give rise to their existence.

Malala specifically calls Pakistan a democratic country, though the military that was helped through her pronouncements against the government acts with impunity, especially in the so-called ‘tribal areas’ where Malala is from. According to many international reports, Pakistan’s penal code and specifically its laws against blasphemy have been used to target both women and minorities. Other issues such as the freedom of the press, the independence of the judiciary, and broad human rights abuses and exploitation of communities in Baluchistan in addition to the ‘counter-terrorism’ policies of the government paint a disparaging picture for the prospect of meaningful democracy – and it is precisely these sorts of human rights issues and abuses that give rise to groups such as the Taleban. Where religious ideology and political aims meet in transnational militia groups like the Taleban we call it ‘terrorism’. When these are well funded and under the cover of the authority of a state we call it ‘freedom’.

These are precisely the reasons I believe that it is imperative for activists and concerned people of the world to examine the narratives that are placed in front of them for consumption. There is definitely room to feel a sense of pride for a young person who experienced great hardship and tragedy in her aims at advocating for girls education in Pakistan. But that story was just too simple.

As a long time activist on issues to do with the Middle East, I have had to learn to be quite critical of my epistemic framework or at least the one I was socialized with growing up as an American entering my formative intellectual years at the same time as the US began its ‘Global War on Terror’ (what we activists call the Global War OF Terror). The worldview that is presented us in media, especially media that has proven itself to be uncritical of power time and again (see this very good talk on the subject of the media and the Iraq war by acclaimed Egyptian journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous). We need to question people when they use terms like ‘terrorist’, ‘warlord’, ‘Taleban’ and even ‘women’s rights advocate’. We have to remember that there are powerful systems in place, political and economic, that rely on certain narratives that are ultimately self serving, keeping elites in power at the expense of ordinary people. We need to understand that all over the world people have different and varying world views based on their experiences, needs and desires and whilst we all seem to want ‘peace’, ‘education’ and ‘democracy’ the differentiations of power and histories of oppression leave us with very different abilities to achieve these goals.

Malala and many before have taught that the pen is mightier than the sword. I am beginning to believe that is quite true – but not in the way that she meant it. I think that the narratives that are put forward to hide certain kinds of violence, like that of the state or transnational capitalism, have become extremely powerful tools in the fight to silence the poor and working class people of this world. I think we need to wake up to that reality and fight against it as harshly and single-mindedly as we do in our struggles to promote the rights and education of women and girls.

I think Adnan Rasheed’s best points were made when he asked, “If you were shot [by] Americans in a drone attack, would [the] world have ever heard updates on your medical status? … Would you [have been] called to UN? Would a Malala day be announced?”

Would we have the courage to ask such questions to those who hold real power?

Defeating the Enemy: A Response to Khalid Saghieh

by Rami Elamine

Khalid Saghieh’s “Sleeping with the Enemy: The Global Left and the ‘No to War’ Discourse” in Jadaliyya leaves a lot of questions unanswered, including where exactly he stands on the question of a military strike on Syria. Saghieh, a former editor of the leftist Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, accuses the anti-war movement, particularly in the United States, of siding with the “far right” and making arguments that are Islamophobic, steeped in “cultural imperialism,” and indifferent to the Syrian people. This could not be further from the truth. His critique seems to rely entirely on the distortions, caricatures, and outright lies of the US media and those pushing for intervention.

Saghieh claims that anti-war protesters stood between those holding posters of Bashar al-Asad on one side and those with anti-imperialism slogans that had nothing to do with the Syrian people on the other. The only place you ever saw people holding up Asad’s picture was in the news, and they were always a small number and usually Syrian immigrants. In terms of the anti-imperialist slogans, even the ANSWER Coalition, which is probably who he is referring to, always had something about the Syrian people.

He goes onto say that the anti-war protesters’ “discourse took its vocabulary from the tracts of the far right and, instead of turning its guns on imperialism, turned them on the Syrian people.” Of course, he provides no supporting examples for such an outrageous claim. The fact is that even the far right was not using Islamophobic and racist arguments to make its case. And moderate Republicans were actually making arguments that most on the left would have no trouble getting behind. More importantly, almost every protest, teach-in, petition, article, etcetera against US intervention had support for the Syrian people front and center, mainly through an appeal to help the millions of Syrian refugees. “Money for refugees, not for war” was one of the more popular chants at protests.

Saghieh shows his frustration with Barack Obama’s inability to sell this war to the American people when he chastises Obama for not doing enough to “[design] an ideological banner for his next war.”  He writes, “This time, there would be no ‘battle for democracy’ or war in the name of ‘freedom for Afghan women.’ Not even ‘freedom for the Syrian people.’ This would be a war, rather, about American ‘red lines’ and ‘national security.’” I am not sure how Saghieh missed this, but “humanitarian intervention” is precisely how the Obama Administration justified an attack, just like they did with Libya (which has been such a disaster that they have to now reach way back to Kosovo for an example of a successful intervention). Their mantra has been that this is about a brutal dictator who used chemical weapons on innocent Syrians, including women and children. They know they would not have gotten any support from the American people or Congress’s approval if they did not frame it in these terms. Maybe by denying that humanitarian intervention was in fact the “ideological banner” Obama designed for this war, Saghieh can avoid having to respond to the numerous articlesdebunking its use to justify war.

Saghieh is also frustrated by the connection with the Iraq war that everyone but him was making: “Perhaps most disturbing of all, some have attempted to ‘apply’ the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the Syrian situation….? Why would people not make that comparison given that both the government and the rebels possess chemical weapons and the Obama Administration has yet to present any conclusive evidence that the Syrian government carried out the attack?

But most of all, Saghieh is frustrated with the fact that the American people, of all people, dashed his hopes for a US military intervention. After all, they have not been able to stop any of the other wars the United States has launched over the past ten years. And with Obama at the helm, it should have been easy to coopt a large section of the anti-war movement.

But clearly the American public had had enough. What Saghieh does not account for is that the groundswell against the attack in this country was so massive that it eclipsed the left and the traditional anti-war movement. For a lot of people this was their first time getting involved in politics, and—for them—that meant contacting their congressperson to voice their opposition. They did not take to the streets like hundreds of thousands did during the Iraq war, but ultimately their impact was greater because their numbers were bigger. It was such a broad section of the United States that it of course included many of those on the right as well. However, despite their involvement, the overall tenor of the opposition to intervention was not Islamophobic or anti-Syrian by any means.

So, no, we were not sleeping with the enemy but we were sleeping. Fortunately we have now woken up with a much larger number of people fed up with the death and destruction that the United States and its allies have wrought upon large parts of the world. In addition, for the first time in a long time we succeeded in stopping the real enemy, the US war machine. We feel good because, unlike Saghieh’s apparent stance, we know that the best way to help the Syrian people is to prevent US bombs from falling on their heads and homes.

When I ran out of birth control in Iran

 

I recently had to extend my trip to Iran and ran out of birth control. No biggie, I thought, contraceptive pills are easily found in pharmacies throughout the country and you don’t even need a prescription. I walked into a pharmacy in Tehran two nights ago, showed the pharmacist my own birth control pills from the United States, and asked for something similar. “We don’t have anything like this,” he said, “our choices of birth control have become extremely limited the past few months.“With the same tired look he also responded to questions from other customers, repeatedly forced to say the same thing: “We no longer have that. You have to check on the black market.”

I knew that Western sanctions against Iran had made it difficult if not impossible to procure many vital medicines. Cancer patients, sufferers of multiple sclerosis and those with numerous others serious conditions have turned to buying medicine on the black market for exorbitant prices, and at times not finding them at all. But I never thought there would be shortages of medicines as routine as birth control. Juggling requests and questions from an anxious crowd of other customers, the pharmacist barely looked back at me: “Ma’am, the only thing I can offer you is Yaz or Yasmin. That’s the best we have in Iran right now.”

I was deeply worried, as Yaz was bad news. I had taken it four years ago only to develop blood clots and extreme mood swings, and gained weight. Yaz and Yasmin are the same birth control brands that now face major lawsuits in the United States because they have been established to cause heart attacks, strokes, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, and blood clots in women. Distributed by Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, there are currently over 9,000 pending lawsuits against these brands of pills.

I could not believe that the best birth control left in Iran – an Iran whose pharmaceutical market has been decimated by sanctions – were the same pills facing court action and considered a serious health threat in the United States. I visited several pharmacies that same day, and received the same answer from one beleaguered pharmacist after another, all of whom had grown tired of telling their customers they no longer had the medicine they needed.

For years, there has been a plethora of birth control pills and other contraceptives easily available and extremely affordable in Iran, a country that boosts one of the most successful family planning programs in the world. It is only in the aftermath of cumulative American-led sanctions against Iran’s banking and financial sectors that most of these options have disappeared from pharmacies. Up until two months ago, pharmacists told me, there were simply no foreign made birth control pills available at all. Many doctors are wary of prescribing the Iranian-made pills because sanctions have made access to the raw materials required to produce them nearly impossible, making many of these drugs unreliable.

“My face completely broke out and I vomited on a daily basis from the birth control pills I took,” said Negin, a 33-year-old architect I spoke with. “I tried every pill on the market this past year, and each was worse than the other. It got so bad that I now have my aunt in Germany send me a packet of birth control pills every month.”

Neda, a 28-year-old engineer, recounted a similar experience. “The month that I took birth control in the winter was the worst month of my life,” she told me. “I have never experienced such extreme highs and lows in my mood. I thought I was going crazy.” She said her gynecologist eventually advised her to stop taking the pills and to find alternative types of contraception.

I went to a gynecologist to see if she could prescribe something for me that was close enough to the pills I take back home. I told Dr. Leyla Eftekhari that I was not willing to take Yaz or Yasmin given my prior experience with them. “I know how horrible they are,” she said, “but you only need to take them until you get back to the U.S. I don’t prescribe anything else to my patients, because they’re simply worse. This is the best we have in Iran now.” And she proceeded to write me three other prescriptions: one in case I had nausea, one in case I experienced spotting, and the other in case I developed extreme headaches. “You’ll have to put up with the potential weight gain and mood swings. But if you get a blood clot, come see me immediately.” I walked out of her office with four prescriptions in hand.

Astonished that good birth control that would not make a woman sick had become so difficult to find, I traveled to pharmacies throughout Tehran and Karaj the next day. In Karaj, a burgeoning city 20 kilometers west of Tehran, a pharmacist told me that when it comes to such medicines specifically for women, most are no longer available. One pharmacist put the situation in perspective like this: “Two months ago, we didn’t even have access to foreign birth control– at least we do now, even if it’s Yaz or Yasmin. But go searching in all of Iran, and you won’t find any vaginal creams or vaginal antibiotics. And for women who are undergoing IVF treatment, they have to search high and low to buy their medicines on the black market. There’s nothing left in the pharmacies.”

What all this means is that women suffering from yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and other vaginal infections have no recourse to modern medical treatment for extremely common, painful maladies. And for a woman undergoing IVF treatment and hoping for a child, well, the black market with it’s back-breaking prices awaits, with no guarantee that the medicine she buys to inject into her body are actually the drugs she thinks she’s paying for.

Some have suggested that Iran’s birth control shortages may also be due to the Ahmadinejad government’s push to reverse the country’s family planning program in a bid to boost the national birth rate and increase family size (today, Iran has a population growth rate of 1.2 per cent and a fertility rate of 1.6). I posed this specific question to pharmacists and manufacturers, who are working at the frontline of shortages.

They agreed that mismanagement and internal conflict over public health policy play a role in medicine shortages, but on the issue of birth control, they didn’t think it was the government’s doing. Foreign brands of birth control went missing for five months at precisely the same time that other foreign medicine became hard to find in the country. Nearly three months ago, Yaz and Yasmin returned to the market, but other foreign brands that used to be widely available did not.

Throughout this, however, Iranian-made birth control pills have remained on the market. Some raised the issue of IVF treatments, arguing that if decreased access to good birth control pills was government policy to increase the birth rate, then where were the necessary injections for IVF treatment? Women who were actively trying to get pregnant could not find the medicine they needed to ensure their pregnancy. And why have vaginal antibiotics and creams disappeared, which have nothing to do with increasing the population? “In short, what is going on is that medicine for women has become increasingly difficult to find–all medicine for women, and no one talks about it,” said a pharmacist in Tehran’s Vanak Square.

Last week the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees all American sanctions, announced that it was adding additional items to its general license for medicine export to Iran. The export of medicine has always been allowed under the current sanctions regime against Iran, yet there is still a severe shortage of medicine in the country. At this point, actions like this from the U.S. have become comical for those of us who travel to Iran frequently. Which bank is willing to make the transactions necessary for the medicine to reach Iran, given that sanctions have choked off Iranian banks from the world? Which company is willing to ship the medicine to Iran, given that almost all shipping routes have been sanctioned? The U.S. Department of Treasury can appear to be making a humanitarian gesture, but without making actual changes to banking and trade sanctions – which have been and will continue to block the sale of medicines to Iran – nothing will change.

And in the meantime, millions of women in Iran will continue to suffer the consequences of compromised U.S.-made birth control pills and the lack of any medications at all to treat the other gynecological problems they may have. American policy makers, who ironically invoked the plight of women in the Middle East to enact their wars in the region after Sept. 11, should know that their policies in Iran are quite literally making women sick.

Narges Bajoghli is a Ph.D student in anthropology at New York University, and director of the documentary film, The Skin That Burns (2012), about survivors of chemical warfare in Iran.

Article origionally published an Iran News Wire

 

The Veils of Democracy: Into the thought-experiment of Steal this Hijab

Dear Steal this Hijab readers:

I launched Steal this Hijab in April 2010 as a way to communicate all that I was learning through my PhD studies on gender rights in an Islamic context. I maintain StH in my spare time, and given I work, research and am politically active – there is not much time to spare!

However, I feel the idea-experiment that StH is the fruit of, continues to be an important aspect of my development as a critical thinker (dare I say scholar?!), and activist. Steal this Hijab demands me to stay quite vigilant about searching for new ideas, movements and ways of calling for and creating a world where equality, freedom, mutual aid, and cooperation serve as the foundations onto which we sketch our lives.

One of the central commitments that I have decided on in terms of the ethos of StH is a dedication to amplifying the voices of those who struggle for justice – allowing them to speak for themselves, yet trying to make those voices heard at all levels. This commitment is ultimately in the service of my own conception of democracy as a praxis that must continuously be struggled for, even as it evolves and changes and appears in different guises over time and space. I seek to understand and promote forms of democracy that utilize a horizontal decision-making process. One that understands that fundamental and sustainable change comes best ‘from below’, from the struggle of ordinary people who take control over their own lives for their benefit, but also for the benefit of their families (in whatever configuration!), communities and larger society.

I think the tension over individual and communal needs will be addressed through a creative process that does not seek to collapse power around one pole or another – but sees that freedom (even individual freedom) as an imperative foundation of a socialist society. I think this means we draw from those models that have been won for us through thought and struggle, whilst searching for novel understandings and new ways to organize ourselves that help us to press the project of liberation forward. This sort of conception of practice in political theory is often referred to as direct democracy and forms of the basis on which many libertarian socialist organizations formulate and practice democracy.

I have felt more and more that the conversations happening in the field(s) of gender studies at its intersectional or axial points are some of the most emancipatory of any I have come across. Mainly because I think the struggle over gender, its implications and formulations of power structures both within and without, ultimately converge into a focus on issues of inclusion and exclusion. In the abstract that notion seems somewhat intangible, but when contextualized it becomes quickly apparent. A classic example from a gender studies perspective is  the debates over abortion – who should ultimately be responsible for the decision of what a person does with their body. How far does autonomy go when it comes to the question of a potential other life? Is the right to life strictly in the hands of the person bearing the fetus, or should society extend rights (even an equality of rights) to the fetus? If the fetus needs to be considered in decision, how should this be done, and to what extent does the life of the fetus have over the right to life, including quality of life, of the person bearing it?

In many countries throughout the world, the issue of abortion and its connection to issues of democracy – especially direct democracy – are fundamental. In the case of abortion the decision to continue with a pregnancy or not often does not lie in the hands of the person who is carrying the fetus. In Ireland where I live, the state is the ultimate decision maker on this question. And the state has, until this day, made the decision to exclude the right of the individual over a dated conception of the will of the whole – coming out of the dominant notions held by the Catholic Church. Catholic conceptions of societal ethics continue to influence what is perceived as the status quo in Ireland, despite a clear change in attitudes towards both ethics and the Catholic Church. But with a political system that perpetuates top down power structures in the favor of maintaining the status quo in order to maintain themselves, means that principles of direct democracy and individual freedom are subordinated to the will of a perceived majority. Rather than allowing for ‘choice’ – the right to choose what one does with their own body, the power over this decision is made by the state not, for instance, an individual woman.

The example of abortion, and the need for a robust democratic process that balances the needs of the individual with that of their community – a process that one can enter into or exit out of voluntarily, whose aim is mutual aid, means asking the question of how to organize ourselves in a horizontal manner that bring to bear the myriad of voices in our societies in a way that people are able to participate freely, with equal powers and equal say?

I am fully aware that we dwell in a world where this must be culled from the wreckage we’ve created, and it can be a painful, insidious process. However, I fully believe that without socialism, without an answer to how we are going to share our stuff, share the resources and potential of our world fairly, environmentally, equitably . . . we will perish. This means the participation of all in our communities, not in a coercive or brutal fashion, like socialist regimes of the past (and some of the present!) but in a way that recognizes and celebrates differences whilst seeking a stronger solidarity of the whole.

I think it will necessitate a great deal or organization, of work that will not always be glamorous and a lot of experimenting. However, if we are to decide that we want our planet to live out the fullness of its life in this galaxy, if we are to survive global warming and climate change, and if we are to decide to think of ourselves not as infinitesimal glimmers of light that burst and die, but rather as connected forces in a perpetually streaming river of life we might have a better understanding of the ferocious power for good that is our potential on this planet.

The question remains about how we do this. How do we birth this world into full being? People have been asking these questions for a long time, and they continue to be important to consider anew. And these are the types of questions, observances and struggles that Steal this Hijab is keenly interested in. We seek to find novel ways people are participating positively in their communities, and have narrowed our focus to the movements that specifically look at gender and rights discourses. We see this as a lens through which we encounter the myriad of equally important issues – like class, race, ability, etc. that effect how our communities are organized, interpreted, understood and lived.

The focus on gender in Islamic contexts comes out of my own personal experience as an activist and the evolution of how I identify myself. Born in the United States to an Iranian father and an American mother, the questions about my own identity began early on, and with the intrepid journey to better understand what, by so many politically motivated accounts, was a clear divide between East and West. It’s a divide that has produced in me, an affection for the questioning of boundaries and borders. An urge engendered in the deepest part of my being to be critical and analyse and ask questions and never accept finalities. This has often landed me in trouble. . .  with my parents, with my teachers and eventually with all those in authority – be it bosses or the machinery of the state. My learning curve as a critical, active participant in my world rose exponentially with the world I inherited as an adult. A world where an autumn morning in the first few days of my university life changed the composition of power structures away from an orientation of openness (for a few), to the suspicion of the many – especially those who came from Muslim majority countries. My white skin, and non-hijab wearing head, provided me with a privilege others from my cultural and ethnic background did not have the safety of. However, my visceral urge to ask questions set me upon a unique path – one that saw me join the work of a tiny, but remarkable solidarity campaign called Voices in the Wilderness (Voices).

Voices was a campaign, whose second floor apartment that doubled as an office, organized delegations of activists opposed to the economic sanctions policy in Iraq, to travel to the country with the specific intention of breaking these sanctions. The act was for Americans, a federal crime, punishable by the potential of 12 years in prison and a fine of up to one million dollars. Because voices was a grassroots campaign of activists, it was not able to break the sanctions in any significant way in terms of providing needed supplies to desperate civilian infrastructure in Iraq. In this way, the small amounts of aid that voices was able to literally carry over in suitcases and handbags, served as more of a symbolic gesture than any practical one. However, the need to call attention to the effects of this policy on ordinary Iraqis – not the political elites – was important in raising the question of the policies’ purpose and more generally helped to bring forth more abstract queries that were important to consider.

The problem of the sanctions policy, however, was not only how it affected the lives on Iraqis – though that was the most crucial aspect. Far more insidious was what the sanctions policy illustrated about the role the U.S. played in the world more generally. The sanctions policy signaled a disregard not only for the lives of Iraqis, but what might generally be acknowledged as an incoherency in how the U.S. viewed and defined itself as a nation, and how it acted and behaved relative to other nations in the world. The sanctions policy itself was not exclusively an invention of the U.S., it was ultimately a policy invented and implemented by the United Nations. But it was one that came into being and perpetuated at the behest of the United States, because it served an important purpose in a larger regional power struggle in the region.

Unfortunately we all know the story from here, a war in Afghanistan, a second in Iraq and an ongoing regional struggle over political power that is increasingly sectarian in nature and composition. Voices has continued their work struggling to demand an end to U.S. economic and military war in the Middle East, and they are joined by many organizations throughout the world that continue to shine a light on U.S. imperialism. What has made the last years in the MENA region peek the interest of activists the world over are the uprisings and revolutions that have turned post-colonial power structures up-side down. Maybe not entirely reversed, but knocking down the notion that the region is fated to be ruled  by dictatorships funded by oil and backed up by the largest capitalist economies on the planet: America, Russia, India, China. People have been in streets (as a handful have always been), but their numbers grow, their demands becomes larger and louder  and include more and more sections of society.

Steal this Hijab has been especially heartened by the ways in which issue-orientated groups have attempted to work in solidarity with each other and with different sections of the population in order to strengthen the demands of the whole. Women’s rights groups have joined with football fans have joined with LGBT activists and folks bridge demands across class and ethnic identities. These spurts of activism are extremely delicate and not without their problems, but they kindle the project of liberation as it sparks or as it roars ahead. In Turkey activists have learned from other movements, especially Egypt, that dialogue at a grassroots level is needed before the move towards electoralism spoils meaningful dialogue on the composition of the society they endeavor to create. These community councils are the living embodiment of the ideals espoused by direct democracy, and help to prove the tangibility of the notion.

Their is much more to this story, but I will have to continue it in the future. For now, I wanted to focus on communicating some of the impulses and purposes that has led to this very spare time project, and let you know some about where Steal this Hijab comes from and where it wants to go. I would love to have the time and resources to expand the website into something more significant. Perhaps someday I will be able to do that, but for now it remains a project that shares the ebbs and flows of my own life.

I encourage commentary and (meaningful) exchanges on this blog. Hopefully some day some of you may send me stuff to publish, and we will have more regular readers and daily posts. Until then, the project continues.

In Solidarity,

Farah

for Steal this Hijab

#resistankara: Notes of a Woman Resisting

 

by Pinar Melis Yelsali Parmaksiz

The Gezi Park protests can be, and are being, analyzed in multiple ways. Meanwhile, on its nineteenth day as this piece is being written, the protests and the solidarity of the protestors continue to advocate for a life in which resisting and acting with creativity and humor transform human existence.

Women of different generations and walks of life have participated in this resistance and solidarity, which started in Istanbul, but has spread over many cities. First and foremost among these was Ankara. For the women protestors, there are different reasons behind their resistance; a significant number of these reasons overlap with resistance to government interference with the female body. That is precisely why the resistance has moved away from the banality of everyday life, creating new kinds of public relations in urban parks, walking anew through old neighborhoods. Considering that women rarely take to the streets, besides on 8 March [International Women’s Day], what can be said about being a woman engaged in resistance and on the street in this new state?

It is likely that only few of the women on the streets would identify themselves as feminists, but this popular uprising constitutes a process of resistance, whose language, form, and ethics are produced on the streets. As such, it provides opportunities for political engagement and exchange, which are also educational. A new kind of language and solidarity has been developed, not despite religious, ethnic, sexual, political, cultural, and generational differences, but precisely by way of such differences. The passive resistance and community built in Gezi Park has already provided us with various examples of this new language. Here in Ankara, too, people are resisting in solidarity in similar ways, and yet the proximity of the state and the concreteness of its presence make the physical struggle here more continuous. Both Kuğulu Park, which the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality attempted to demolish in the past, and Güvenpark, which went through a series of alterations, have great symbolic value.

The most recent of these alterations was undertaken in 2003 by, once again, the Metropolitan Municipality, in the form of a de-pedestrianization project for the central Kızılay area, where Güvenpark is situated. This project became relevant again in the context of the military barracks proposed for the site of Gezi Park, because the prospect of the Kizilay project was once subject to a plebiscite, similar to that which is being suggested for Gezi Park. Traffic lights were uprooted and pedestrian crossings were blocked in Kızılay. Later on, however, following the reactions of Ankara residents and local NGOs, the Metropolitan Municipality took a step back. The Kızılay plebiscite, which was already viewed as shady, was declared invalid. Having these memories in mind on 31 May, thousands of Ankara residents gathered in Kuğulu Park and walked down to Kızılay. For this reason, the central role played by Güvenpark and Kuğulu Park in the resistance is especially meaningful. Add to that the ghost of Kızılay Park, which used to extend across from Güvenpark in the 1930s; in its place now stands a giant shopping mall.

Of course, for women, being able to go out is an issue. On the one hand, thousands of women did take to the streets, filling the squares and avenues of Ankara. On the other hand, women with kids have had to make arrangements: to go with or without the kids; to plan to first feed the kids and put them to bed and then leave; to share the babysitting responsibilities with the fathers and the grandparents—all in a persistent effort to find a way to get to the street, the park, the square. Spraying anti-teargas solutions in someone’s eyes, volunteering to work at the temporary libraries established in the parks, picking up the trash, advising people not to use swear words, talking about the real addressee’s of swearwords, debating, but still, talking, screaming, not keeping silent, not swallowing, and walking, and walking again.

One action in Istanbul that was of marked importance in terms of female participation was the arrival in Gezi Park of mothers, whose children may or may not have been there on the eve of 13 June. They went out on the streets to turn the tables on the call from the Mayor of Istanbul for mothers to “come and fetch your children,” and, more generally, on the government’s political discourse, whereby women are recognized in and defined through the domestic sphere. In doing so, they made it clear that motherhood cannot be instrumentalized as the sole legitimization of identity politics, and they enabled us to imagine motherhood as a liberating experience and identity.

In addition, Taksim brought the mothers of the so-called marginal and slacker “Children of Gezi” together, if only symbolically, with another group of mothers. They shared Taksim Square with the so-called Saturday Mothers, who gathered last Saturday, as they do every Saturday, for the 429th time in Taksim, to ask—not for their children’s right to life, but for justice for their unresolved cases, most of which involve state violence against political or Kurdish activists. They also shared Taksim Square with the mothers whose children, having been murdered by the state in Roboski, were called terrorists.

The historiography of feminist movements in Turkey maintains that the second wave of the feminist movement post-1980 consists of the daughters of the first generation of Kemalist mothers. The Gezi Park resistance is not a feminist protest, but it might be considered as having important outcomes for women. The fact that the middle class constitutes the main social base of the Gezi resistance increases the number of Kemalist women participating in it. Despite that, many more women, other than just Kemalists, are part of this resistance. What is truly novel is that “even” the Kemalist women are getting beyond their ordinary hang-ups, the demons of Kemalism: the Kurdish people and the covered women.

The silence of the media has had a significant role in this. Another significant role has been that of the Prime Minister and his paternalist jargon. Women are raising their voices against a male power figure, who does not miss any opportunity to rule over the morality of “maidens” and the sexuality of women at large, while at the same time trying to sugar-coat with the idea of freedom his jargon about “my covered girls.” Moreover, it is heartening that women, especially Kemalist women, are rising against the real and symbolic fathers who have constantly told them how to live. I am excited to transform the street into a place of resistance and solidarity alongside the women of my neighborhood. Given that the shopping malls have been the most “secure” areas to take children in these days, it seems all the more vital to me that we should lay claim to our neighborhoods.

Striving for Muslim Women’s Human Rights

by Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons

I am a practicing Muslim and an Islamic scholar who received my Ph.D. with a focus on Islamic law and women from Temple University in 2002.[1] I came into the tradition via Sufism, the Mystical Stream in Islam. It was my great fortune to meet and study with a Sufi Master from Sri Lanka, M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen[2] who I met here in the United States in the fall of 1971. Meeting him was the culmination of my search for a spiritual guide who could answer questions about the nature and purpose of existence that I had been posing to my parents, ministers, Sunday school teachers, and the like since I was 12 years old. Questions that had troubled me for over a decade included: “Who am I?” “Why have I come here?” “Why are we all here?” “What is this spectacle in which we are all involved really about?” Prior to meeting and studying with this highly revered teacher, I had not found satisfactory answers from any of the sources I went to with my queries. Bawa practiced gender inclusiveness and taught a mystical and non-hierarchical gender interpretation of Islam that valued women and encouraged our leadership and participation in all aspects of the community. I was drawn to the Islam that Bawa described: an Islam of equality, peacefulness, and unity that is exemplified in the human being’s life by inner patience, contentment, trust in God, and praise of God. This was a spiritual state of consciousness accessible to all human beings. Bawa often reiterated the “feminine” qualities of Allah, His/Her compassion, and His/Her mercy as being the two most important attributes of God. This was the Islam I embraced.

I grew up in the Jim Crow South during the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s. During this period, I experienced virulent racism and what I would later identify as sexism in all of the institutions with which I interacted. But I also saw strong women in my family, my church and my school who resisted both racism and sexism, overtly and covertly. These were women with positive views of themselves and their ability to make a way out of no way, just as their foremothers had done. They were the backbone of my family, my church, and my school. These women made a strong impression on me, and because of them I never questioned my ability to accomplish any goals that I sought to achieve. This attitude propelled me into the swirling vortex of the Student Sit-In Movement and later the Civil Rights Movement where I became a leader, working as a full time field secretary in SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), primarily in Mississippi and Georgia.[3]  I served as the Project Director in Laurel, Mississippi duringFreedom Summer in 1964 and for some twelve months thereafter. I was also one of the founding members of the Atlanta Project of SNCC, which developed the ideological underpinning for the Black Power thrust within SNCC and served as the Project’s Assistant Director.[4]During my time in SNCC, I was beaten, jailed, chased by the Ku Klux Klan (had the tires shot out during one such chase!), led marches, and held my ground. There were many female comrades in this struggle who withstood much more than I and were known and respected for their leadership, their insight, and skills.

I was one of many women in the Civil Rights Movement who stood shoulder to shoulder with men as we confronted the officials who upheld the Jim Crow system that we were hell bent on destroying. In many of the rural and small town areas in which we worked, women built the movement and sustained it. There would not have been a Civil Rights Movement without the women – known and unknown – who were the foundation for the structures of change we built.[5]

The above biographical information is an important backdrop for my views on Islam, Muslims, and women. It will help to explain my inability to submit to misogynist interpretations of Islam used to lock women into second-class status or worse in many majority Muslim states and institutions. My own experience with women from my childhood until now prevents me from succumbing to many of the ideas about women’s inferiority and their place in the world espoused by many men (and sadly women too) in numerous Muslim societies and institutions, including those in the West. In my work described briefly above, I learned that most if not all of what had been taught about Black people in this country were lies told to keep African Americans mentally enslaved and to bolster white supremacy. Everything possible was done to make whites feel innately superior to blacks and for blacks to feel completely inferior to whites. The entire Jim Crow system was devised and rigidly maintained for this purpose. I also came to learn that the stereotypes promoted about women as the “weaker” sex were used to justify and bolster the patriarchal system in which men control women’s lives. I saw how religion and culture were used to make women compliant and often complicit in their own oppression. I have seen how religion, tradition, and culture have been abused historically to convince women of their inferiority to men and their need to be obedient and compliant to the men in their lives.

Because of my longstanding rejection of institutionalized patriarchy, including that found within some Islamic communities, my relationship with Islam has been wrought with ambivalence and tension.

Yet, I have made Umrah – the small Pilgrimage to Mecca – and found it one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. I love dearly the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen mosque that I and the disciples of Bawa constructed in Philadelphia in 1984. Spending time there in contemplation and prayer are special times for me. The prayers, the month of fasting (Ramadan) and other Islamic rituals are dear to my heart. I lived for two years in Jordan and traveled regularly to Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. There is much about these cultures that I love and embrace in spite of the blatant sexism I saw and experienced. I have traveled to other parts of the Muslim majority world where I have witnessed varying degrees of sexism not unlike what I experience here in the U.S. Additionally, I have spent time in numerous Muslim communities here in the U.S. where I often find it difficult to accept, as many feminist Muslims and their allies have since the nineteenth century, what I see and hear. These include the support for the Personal Status provisions of Shari’ah law[6] by many Muslims and their denial of its discrimination against women and non-Muslims, which I find distressing. The emphasis on women wearing hijab and other “Islamic” garments to show that they are modest believers is troubling. The rejection of women as prayer leaders, or callers to the prayers, I also find difficult to accept. I stand with those progressive Muslims who reject the idea that women cannot lead mixed gender prayers or give the call to prayer. There are Muslim communities here in the U.S. where women give the call to prayer, lead prayers, and give the Friday sermon. It was my great pleasure to worship with such a group in Atlanta, Georgia in May of this year. The emphasis on women’s biological role as determinative of every aspect of their life as well as the promotion of gender segregation in public spaces greatly disturbs me. It is saddening, but not surprising, to see that such views are also espoused here in the U.S. by other religious groups.

Even more difficult for me is the idea, still clung to by many, that the woman is to be obedient to male family members who have the right to control her. Again we see these same sentiments expressed here in the U.S. by those who identify with the Christian Right. I am saddened by the use of the more misogynist passages from the Hadith[7] as well as sexist interpretations of Qur’anic texts to justify the views and practices being embraced, which are unacceptable for me personally.

Equally, if not more troubling, is the widespread resistance to a public exchange of ideas within the Muslim community, especially when initiated by women, who are expected to “accept” male perspectives and interpretations, many of which were developed in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries of the Common Era. These conservative interpretations defy what I and many progressive Muslims see as the essentially egalitarian message of the Qur’an and the early Muslim community when women such as Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), Aishah bint Abu Bakr, said to be the favorite wife of the Prophet (S.A.W.), and other women played significant leadership roles in the bourgeoning community.

Many Muslims – women and men – do not accept these retrograde views and are on the front lines fighting for women’s human rights. We women who consider ourselves feminists are questioning the male and often misogynist interpretations of the sacred tenants of Islam. We are focusing a feminist lens on Islam’s canon and are deriving different interpretations from those that have prevailed for centuries. “Seeing a single essence or ‘spirit’ of Islam, a single blueprint for gender roles…proves difficult. Islam is not one thing, but rather a set of beliefs and values that evolved over time in rhythm with changing historical conditions and local customs and practices with which it came into contact.”[8]

We feminist Muslims – as our Jewish and Christian sisters have done – are bringing this insight and information to the forefront. We are arguing that Islam is NOT a monolithic structure etched in stone for eternity. We are seeking to separate Islam the religion from culture, tradition, and the social mores of the societies in which Islam arose and took root. We are reinterpreting the sacred texts anew from a feminist perspective. We are reviewing the history of the religion and are finding and bringing to the foreground earlier interpretations of earlier sects or groups in Islam whose views were more egalitarian, but were labeled heterodox and dismissed. We Muslim feminists seek to reinterpret, reconceptualize, contextualize, and historicize Islam and our societies’ rituals and practices.[9]

We know that we have a difficult task before us. Thirteen centuries of belief and cultural tradition are hard to change. But it is a struggle we must wage for our daughters and our daughters’ daughters.

[1] I spent two years (1996-1998) on Fulbright and NMERTA Fellowships during dissertation research in Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Palestine focused on the impact of Islamic law on women, which culminated in my dissertation, The Islamic Law of Personal Status and Its Contemporary Impact on Women in Jordan.

[2] Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyadeen arrived in the U. S. on October 11th, 1971. He traveled extensively in the United States selflessly sharing his knowledge and experiences with people of every race, and religion as he had done for over fifty years in Sri Lanka.  He established the Bawa Muhaiyadeen Fellowship of North America in Philadelphia. Since then branches have spread throughout the United States and Canada as well as in Australia and the U.K. For more information on Bawa and the Fellowship see the official website of the Bawa Muhaiyadeen Fellowship at: http://www.bmf.org

[3] See Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, “From Little Memphis Girl to Mississippi Amazon,” in Hands On The Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts By Women in SNCC, ed., by Faith S. Holsaert et al, Urbana, Chicago, & Springfield, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2010, pp. 9-32.

[4] See Winston A. Grady-Willis, Challenging U.S. Apartheid: Atlanta and Black Struggles for Human Rights, 1960-1977, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006.

[5] There are excellent books that have been written about women in the Civil Rights Movement. I highly recommend: Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers & Torchbearers 1941-1965, eds. Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Rouse, & Barbara Woods and Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, edited by Betty Collier-Thomas and V. P. Franklin, New York University Press, 2001;

[6] Shari’ah or Islamic law is the moral code and religious law of Islam. Shari’ah deals with many topics including crime, politics and economics but it also covers religious and personal matters. For example, how one performs the ritual prayers in Islam are spelled out in the Shari’ah, as is how to perform the Fast of Ramadan or the Pilgrimage to Mecca. The Shari’ah also covers marriage, divorce, sexual intercourse, hygiene and the like. There are numerous books on Shari’ah in the English language that can be found easily on line. One such title is: Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Shari’ah Law: An Introduction, Oxford, England: Oneworld Press, 2008.

[7] The Hadith are the collections of the saying and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as remembered and recorded by his Companions. These collections are seen as authoritative and are considered second only to the Qur’an in their importance for the faith.

[8] Khalidi, Ramla, and Judith Tucker, “Women’s Rights in the Arab World.” Special Report of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), pp. 2-8, n.d.

[9] For a fuller treatment of my views on the global Muslim feminist for Human Rights see my essays, “Striving for Muslim Women’s Human Rights-Before and Beyond Beijing – An African American Perspective” in Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America,ed. by Gisela Webb, Syracuse, N.Y.: 2000, pp. 197-225 and “Are we up to the challenge? The need for a radical re-ordering of the Islamic discourse on women,” in Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, ed. by Omid Safi, Oxford, England: Oneworld Press, 2005, pp.235 – 248.

(originally published at The Feminist Wire)

Despotism or Feminism

Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini is a legal anthropologist specializing in Islamic law, gender, and development. She is currently Professorial Research Associate at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Law, University of London. In this lecture, Dr. Mir-Hosseini explores the Islamic feminist movement’s potential for changing the terms of debates over Islam and gender, arguing that the real battle is between patriarchy and despotism on the one hand, and gender equality and democracy on the other.

 

The Arab Spring: The end of postcolonialism

by; Hamid Dabashi

The world keeps discovering, keeps inventing, keeps overcoming itself. Because of the Arab Spring, the world is once again pregnant with better and more hopeful versions of itself. The crescendo of transnational uprisings from Morocco to Iran, and from Syria to Yemen, are turning the world upside down. The task facing us today is precisely to see in what particular way our consciousness of the world is in the midst of transforming itself – by force of history. The world we have hitherto known as “the Middle East” or “North Africa”, or “the Arab and Muslim world“, all part and parcel of a colonial geography we had inherited, is changing, and is changing fast. We have now entered the phase of documenting in what particular terms that world is transcending itself, overcoming the mystified consciousness into which it was colonially cast and postcolonially fixated.

In understanding what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East, we are running out of metaphors. We need new metaphors. Even the word “revolution” – understood anywhere from Karl Marx to Hannah Arendt – needs rethinking. Such a new language of the revolution will cast the impact of “the Arab Spring” on national and international politics for generations to come. These uprisings have already moved beyond race and religion, sects and ideologies, pro- or anti-Western. The term “West” is more meaningless today than ever before – it has lost its potency, and with it the notion, and the condition, we had code-named postcoloniality. The East, the West, the Oriental, the colonial, the postcolonial – they are no more. What we are witnessing unfold in what used to be called “the Middle East” (and beyond) marks the end of postcolonial ideological formations – and that is precisely the principal argument informing the way this book discusses and celebrates the Arab Spring. The postcolonial did not overcome the colonial; it exacerbated it by negation. The Arab Spring has overcome them both. The drama of this delayed defiance Arabs have now called their spring; and I will use the occasion to make a case for our having entered the phase of the end of postcoloniality, delivered from exacerbating a historic trauma.

The transformation of consciousness, and precisely not through dogma or violence, is the inaugural moment of discovering new worlds – not by willing what does not exist but by seeing what is unfolding. As I write, the Arab revolutions, each with a different momentum, are creating a new geography of liberation, which is no longer mapped on colonial or cast upon postcolonial structures of domination; this restructuring points to a far more radical emancipation, not only in these but, by extension, in adjacent societies and in an open-ended dynamic. This permanent revolutionary mood has already connected the national to the transnational in unexpected and unfolding ways, leading to a reconfigured geopolitics of hope. That the Arab revolutions are changing our imaginative geography is already evident in the interaction between the southern and northern coasts of the Mediterranean in terms of modes of protest, with the spread of Tahrir Square-style youth uprisings evident from Greece to Spain, and indeed to the United States and the Occupy Wall Street movement – with even Aung San Suu Kyi comparing her campaign for democracy in Myanmar with the Arab Spring. These revolutions are not driven by the politics of replicating “the West” – rather, they are transcending it, and thus are as conceptually disturbing to the existing political order as to therégime du savoir around the globe. The ground is shifting under the feet of what self-proclaimed superpowers thought was their globe. These variations on the theme of delayed defiance hinge on the idea that the revolutions are simultaneously a rejection not just of the colonial oppression they have inherited but, a fortiori, of the postcolonial ideologies that had presented and exhausted themselves as its antithesis in Islamist, nationalist or socialist grand narratives.

The mystical consciousness our world has inherited hangs around the binary of “The West and the Rest”, the most damning delusion that the European colonial map of the world manufactured and left behind, with “Islam and the West” as its most potent borderlines. It is precisely that grand illusion that is dissolving right before our eyes. But that is not all: the challenge posed by these revolutions to divisions within Islam and among Muslims – racial (Arabs, Turks, Iranians, etc), ethnic (Kurds, Baluchs, etc), or sectarian (Sunni and Shia in particular) – has at once agitated and (ipso facto) discredited them. These revolutions are collective acts of overcoming. They are crafting new identities, forging new solidarities, both within and without the “Islam and the West” binary – overcoming once and for all the thick (material and moral) colonial divide. The dynamics now unfolding between the national and the transnational will, as they do, override all others. The synergy that has ensued is crafting a new framework for the humanity they have thus embraced and empowered. Those dynamics are checked, to be sure, by counter-revolutionary forces that are now fully at work – and that have much to lose from these revolutions.

The world, and not just “the Muslim world”, has long been dreaming of these uprisings. Since at least the French Revolution of 1789, the European revolutions of 1848, the Russian Revolution of 1917, since the British packed their belongings and left India in 1948, since the French left Algeria, the Italians left Libya, the world has been dreaming of the Arab Spring. From the time the colonial world began lowering European flags, and as the postcolonial world was raising new ones, the world has been dreaming of the emblematic slogan, now chanted by people from one end of the Arab world to another: Huriyyah, Adalah Ijtima’iyah, Karamah, “Freedom, Social Justice, Dignity”.

To pave the way for an open-ended unfolding of these revolts, the public space has been expanding for a very long time, and the political act is now being charged and redefined to accommodate it. But the public facade of unity across social classes and between different political tendencies, which has characterised the uprising from the very outset, has been and will continue to be fractured. But these fractures will expand the public space, not diminish it. That societal expansion of the bedrock of politics will not be along ideological lines. In the world beyond Christian dogma, people are not born in a state of sin, for this to be forgiven by way of communal declaration. As there is no original sin, there is no final forgiveness – and thus no grand illusion, no master-narratives of emancipation. The ideals remain open and grand, as they must, but demanding and exacting their realisation require painstaking and detailed work by particular voluntary associations beyond the reach of the state – labour unions, women’s rights organisations, student assemblies – all by way of forming a web of affiliation around the atomised individual, thus protecting her, thus enabling him, to resist the ever increasing power of the emergent state.

The spectre of that emerging state will keep the democratic muscles of these revolutionary uprisings flexing – for a very long time, and for a very simple reason. The world we have inherited is mystified (Marx’s term) by the force fields of power that have at once held it together and distorted it. Fighting the military and economic might of counter-revolutionaries goes hand in hand with deciphering the transformed consciousness that must promise and deliver the emerging world. The colonial subject (now revolting beyond the mirage of the postcolonial state) was formed, forced, and framed as the object of European imperial domination, with multivariate modes of governmentality that extended from the heart of “the West” to the edges of “the Rest”. Europe colonised the Arab and Muslim world from one end to the other precisely according to the model of power by which it was itself being colonised by the self-fetishising logic of capital. It was, by way of partaking in the making of the fetishised commodity, being alienated from itself as it was forcing that massive alienation on the colonial world. Postcolonialism was instrumental in conceptually fetishising colonialism as something other than the abuse of labour by capital writ large. It is not, and never has been.

The postcolonial subject, which was none other than the colonial subject multiplied by the illusion of emancipation, was thus released into the force field of that very same colonial history on a wild goose chase of ideological certainty before and after political convictions. For more than two hundred years – the 19th and 20th centuries – colonialism begat postcolonial ideological formations: socialism, nationalism, nativism (Islamism); one metanarrative after another, ostensibly to combat, but effectively to embrace and exacerbate, its consequences. As these postcolonial ideological formations began epistemically to exhaust themselves, the position of “subalternity” travelled from South Asia and became a North American academic fanfare, before it was politically neutered and soon turned into the literary trope of a “native informant”. Thus colonialism and postcoloniality combined to place the Arab and the Muslim (as its supreme and absolute other) outside the self-universalis

ing tropes of European metaphysics, where the non-Western (thus branded) was never in the purview of full subjection, of full historical agency.

The world was thus sealed in a self-sustaining binary that has kept repeating, revealing, and concealing itself. Finally coming to full historical consciousness in terms of their own agential sovereignty and worldly subjection, “the Arab” and “the Muslim” are now exiting that trap, having identified it as the simulacrum of a renewed pact with humanity – beyond the European entrapping of “humanism”. Arabs and Muslims in revolt have no crisis of the subject, no problem with their cogito.

“The work of our time,” Marx rightly declared is “to clarify to itself the meaning of its own desires”. Indeed – and in that spirit I have written The Arab Spring.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in the City of New York. The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism is now released in London by the Zed Books.

 

Incarcerated Journalist Mehdi Mahmoudian: Over 1,100 Individuals On Death Row In Rejaei Shahr

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Incarcerated journalist, Mehdi Mahmoudian has written a report on the situation of the death-row prisoners in Rejaei Shahr prison.

Mehdi Mahmoudian, a member of the Participation Front Party and the Society for the Defense of Prisoners Rights had exposed horrific and deadly conditions in the now closed Kahrizak prison. He had also reported on post-2009 presidential election events. He is serving a five year sentence in Rejaei Shahr on charges of collusion with intent to act against the national security.

Following is a translation of Mahmoudian’s report on the death-row prisoners in Rajai Shahr prison as provided to Kalameh:

After sixteen years he was able to embrace a child. After years of battling heart disease, he was finally sent to a hospital for an open heart surgery.

I went to visit him in his cell. I was waiting for him to tell me about his difficult surgery and the suffering…

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A Report From The Burial Of Blogger Sattar Beheshti Killed Under Torture In Custody

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35 years old blogger, Sattar Beheshti was arrested on October 30 at his home in Robat Karim. His family was contacted by authorities on November 6th informing them of his death in custody without giving any further explanation or the cause of death.

Following is an interview with an eye witness conducted by Saham News:

Saham News: An eye witness who attended Sattar Beheshti’s funeral told Saham News that Beheshti’s body showed visible signs on injuries.

According to this witness, Sattar Beheshti’s leg and knees were bloody, his face was bruised and he had head injuries.

According to this witness, Sattar Beheshti’s face and head showed signs of severe injuries and his shroud was blood soaked.

Unfortunately the officers did not allow his family to see his body prior to burial. Only for a few minutes after they placed the body in the grave, they removed the shroud from his…

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Eight Members Of The Pan-Iranist Party Arrested

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The Pan-Iranist Youth Organization reports: Thursday evening the home of Reza Kermani was raided and ten members of the Paniranist party were arrested and taken to the police station in Shahrak Naz in Karaj.

Two of the arrested were released few hours later but the other eight people were taken to an undisclosed location.

The Pan-Iranist party announced the names of the detainees as follows:

Hojat Kalashi, Ozhen Akbari, Farhad Baghbani, Kasra Alasavand, Hooman Eskandari, Hossein Shahriyari, Alireza Solaimani and Hossein Javid.

According to this report, agents raided the home of Reza Kermani and after a complete search of the home, confiscated personal items including books, tapes, CD’s, laptop, computer and family pictures.

Source: GVF

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War of Position and War of Maneuver: Sexperts, Sex Pervs, and Sex Revolutionaries

 

by Sima Shakhsari

The recent issue of Foreign Policy on sex has instigated critical feedback from many who have rightly challenged racist and Orientalist representations of gender and sexuality in the Muslim and Arab worlds. Several critics have rightly pointed out that essentialist approaches to culture that rely on facile binaries of men/women, freedom/oppression, and West/East lack any meaningful analyses of geopolitics, economy, colonial and post-colonial formations, and historical nuances. Most of these responses, however, have focused onMona El Tahawy’s article, which reproduces discourses of violent Arab masculinity and victimized femininity.

Here, however, I want to take up Karim Sadjadpour’s “The Ayatollah Under the Bed(sheets),” an anecdotal character study-like article that seeks to understand the perverse mentality of the Iranian mullahs and the practicing Muslims who emulate them. Sadjadpour tells his readers that “for those in the West who seek to better understand what makes Tehran tick, the regime’s curious fixation on sex cannot be ignored.” He continues by warning us that “the outwardly chaste nature of Khomeinist political culture has perverted normal sexual behavior, creating peculiar curiosities—and proclivities—among Iranian officialdom.” Conflating the “regime” with “the mullahs” and deeming “the mullahs” to be characteristically perverted, Sadjadpour seems to suggest that the way to defeat “the regime” is to kick it where it hurts: its sex organ!

Both a war of position to gain hegemony and a war of maneuver for a (sexual) revolution, Sadjadpour’s article seems to be a part of a constant battle between the diasporic “experts” who seek to topple the “regime” and the Islamic Republic, which like many states, seeks to discipline and regulate the life of its citizens. While the role of the (sex)perts in this war is concealed, the “regime” in Sadjadpour’s article is reduced to the iconic perverted “ayatollah” who preys on the heterosexually-imagined Iranian people.

In this war zone, and in a time when the liberatory forces tell us that a sexual revolution is long due in the Middle East, I echo Maya Mikdashi and Sherene Seikaly and say, “let’s talk about sex!” But, as Foucault has taught us, I approach this “sex talk” with skepticism, asking why and how we talk about sex. How is sexuality put into discourse during the “war on terror” and how do complex international and transnational networks of people, information, and capital impose strategies of regulation and discipline? In other words, I am interested in the way that sex is a form of transnational governmentality in this neo-liberal and neo-colonial age. Governmentality, as defined by Foucault, is an ensemble that includes institutions, procedures, analyses, calculations, and strategies that enable a complex form of power (biopower). This form of power targets the population, uses political economy as its form of knowledge, and utilizes the apparatus of security in its normalizing work. According to Foucault, government is not just limited to political structures of states, but includes the way in which the behavior of individuals and groups might be conducted by non-state entities and individuals.

Sadjadpour’s article is an example of the way that “experts” participate in normalizing the sexuality of the Iranian population while taking part in the regime-change discourses that neoliberal, neocolonial and geopolitical agendas espouse.

Perhaps to make his sex talk “sexy,” Sadjadpour claims that “for a variety of reasons—fear of becoming Salman Rushdie, of being labeled an Orientalist, of upsetting religious sensibilities—the remarkable hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is often studiously avoided.” Unlike Sadjadpour’s claim, however, several feminist scholars such as Minoo MoallemAfsaneh Najmabadi, and Homa Hoodfar, among others, have written about the state (and non-state) regulation of sexuality in pre and post-revolutionary Iran. These scholars have tackled a range of issues from colonialism to nationalism, fundamentalism, heteronormalization of sexuality in modern Iran, historical accounts of sexuality, and the post-revolutionary state’s control of sexuality. Minoo Moallem, for example, has written extensively about Islamic fundamentalism as a modern transnational movement (and not, as Sadjadpour claims, a pre-modern atavistic regime). Engaging the Islamic Republic as a modern nation-state that disciplines and regulates gendered and sexed identities, Moallem has shown how the hegemonic masculinity of the citizen/subject is a site of contradictions between the pious masculinity of the clergyman and the secular masculinity of the citizen. Let us not forget, however, that the Iranian state is not an exception in disciplining and normalizing the citizens. The tensions over gays in the military, gay marriage, birth control, and abortion in the United States are all examples of the state disciplining and normalizing practices.

Yet despite this broad-ranging and critical feminist scholarship on gendered and sexed identities in modern Iran, it is only hegemonic accounts of sexuality that garner attention in mainstream media and academic circles. These sensationalized narratives often juxtapose an untamed, perverse, traditional, rural, and religious sexuality to a sanitized, modern, and urban Iranian sexuality. Conflated with tradition, Islamic sexuality comes to mean bestiality, sodomy, pedophilia, and polygamy, while a heteronormative (and more recently homonormative) sexuality is constructed as modern and revolutionary. We are told by sexperts that young urban Iranians are challenging the “theocratic regime” by having sex in the private sphere. In this framework, talking about sex or having sex (of the acceptable form) becomes a sign of resistance to the Iranian “regime.”

Thus the marketability of accounts of sexuality is predicated on the binary of repressed sexuality in Iran and freedom of sexuality in the “West.” (Debates that followed the publishing of half-naked pictures of Golshifteh Farahani in a French magazine are examples of this trend). As many scholars have pointed out, women (and increasingly queers) become markers of freedom or oppression within colonial discourses. During the war on terror, native informants who write about the oppression of women and queers in the Muslim and Arab worlds have increasingly become best-sellers and star academics who act as neoliberal self-entrepreneurs, circumvent the tenure processes, and work as “experts” in think tanks that are closely connected to academic institutions.

Interestingly, despite the strategic political appropriations of queers among these (arguably homophobic) groups and individuals, Sadjadpour seems to have missed the chic of queer bandwagon. He denounces “sodomy” and bestiality (which he equally abhors) as abnormal obsessions of Khomeini, suggesting these deviant practices to be familiar to the backward and anti-modern mullah. He claims that:

[s]cholars of Shiism—including harsh critics of Khomeini—emphasize that such themes were the norm among clerics of Khomeini’s generation and should be understood in their proper context: Islam was a religion that emerged out of a rural desert, and the Prophet Mohammed was himself once a shepherd.

There is much to be said about the elitism, nationalism, and anti-Arab sentiments implicit in this statement. In this anti-regime brand of the Iranian nationalistic discourse, “mullahs” become representatives of the Arab other, and the Iranian revolution of 1979 becomes the signifier of a “second Arab invasion.” Needless to say, representations of a temporally fixed Islam and depictions ofperverted Islamic masculinity are consistent with Orientalist discourses that inform the rampant Islamophobia of the war on terror. Maya Mikdashi and Sherene Seikaly rightly point out that Sadjadpour dismisses “the centuries old tradition of practicing Muslims asking and receiving advice on sexual and gender practices.” In fact, Sadjadpour is fixated on the backwardness and deviance of the religious advice on sex. Of course, it does not take an expert of Islamic jurisprudence to know that most practicing Muslims constantly negotiate Islamic codes of conduct though the concept of ijtihadand interpretation. It is exactly because of this concept, for example, that not too long after the 1979 revolution, Khomeini issued a fatwa deeming sex reassignment surgeries to be religiously permissible. Not surprisingly, Khomeini uses normalizing concepts borrowed from modern medical and psychological discourses of his time (and not the Prophet Mohammad’s time!), including Harry Benjamin’s The Transsexual Phenomenon. In fact, modern medical and psychological discourses and religious ones are not necessarily contradictory, but often congruent in normalizing the modern citizen/subject.

Relying on binaries of modern/tradition, secular/religious, public/private, and state/society, Sadjadpour misses the messy overlaps between these discursive oppositions, thus positing a unified traditional Islamic state against a modern homogenous Iranian society, captive to the monstrous and pre-modern sexuality of mullahs. Sadjadpour agrees with Mehdi Khalaji, a Washington-based think tank “expert” who claims that “Islamic jurisprudence hasn’t yet been modernized. It’s totally disconnected from the issues that modern, urban people have to deal with.” Yet, according to Sadjadpour, because there is no separation of religion and politics in Iran (as though this distinction is clear in liberal democracies such as the United States), this perverted Islamic sexuality is dangerously trickling down to the public sphere and dragging Iran down the temporally regressive path: “Because religion is politics in a theocracy like Iran, uninformed or antiquated notions of sexuality aren’t just confined to the bedroom—they pervade the country’s seminaries, military barracks, boardrooms, courtrooms, and classrooms.”

Ultimately, Sadjadpour’s point is that the key to the liberation of Iran is not bombs, but sex! Revolution is achieved through taming the unruly sexuality of the mullahs who are obsessed with bestiality and sodomy, and encouraging “modern” and normal sexuality among youth, whose ‘”frustrated” and “pent-up” sexual energy would otherwise turn into unhealthy and dangerous acts (Basiji youth are pathologized as violent beings whose frustration comes from not “screwing”!)

Elsewhere, I have discussed the production of expertise in think tanks as part of insurance technologies to manage the “risk of terrorism.” These strategies involve the production and division of populations into those who pose the risk of “terrorism” and those who are threatened by it. The experts’ job is to produce, predict, calculate the probability, and eliminate the risk that threatens the interests and values of the “international community.”

Interestingly, Sadjadpour’s speculations about the outcomes of a repressed and perverted sexuality (terrorism) and his choice of “experts” are in line with this management strategy. Not surprisingly, the expert Sadjadpour introduces as a “scholar of Shiism,” is Mehdi Khalaji. A disrobed seminary student, Khalaji got a job at a US propaganda radio service in Prague and migrated to the United States. Despite his lack of formal academic credentials, Khalaji has been working at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank that seeks to protect Israeli state interests. Given his choice of “experts,” Sadjadpour’s recommendation that “the sexual manias of Iran’s religious fundamentalists are worthy of greater scrutiny, all the more so because they control a state with nuclear ambitions, vast oil wealth, and a young, dynamic, stifled population” is quite predictable.

It is also not surprising that Sadjadpour blames unhealthy sexual behavior on the Iranian regime’s repression and internet censorship. There is no doubt that the Iranian state is increasingly limiting access to the internet through filtering, censorship, and harassment of internet users. Yet, US concernwith internet censorship and its campaigns to lift what Obama has termed Iran’s “electronic curtain” in Iran are hypocritical, to say the least. While the United States’ government has worked diligently to circumvent internet censorship in Iran, it has imposed its own filtering criteria. Sadjadpour is correct in pointing out that pages containing the word “sex” (including Essex University) are filtered in Iran. Yet, he fails to mention that it is not just the Iranian state that is obsessed with the sex life of its people. For years, the US government has been contracting private companies such as Anonymizer to send free anti-filtering proxies to Iranian internet users. The US provided proxies, however, block certain words to prevent moral deviation. Incidentally, for a long time, in order to discourage Iranians from surfing gay porn sites, US sponsored proxies filtered the word “ass. Apparently, the US freedom/security apparatus did not realize that its filter-breaking proxies were filtering all words that contained the letters “a-s-s,” including the American Embassy!”

The irony of it all is that while the liberatory forces are so concerned about rights and freedom in Iran, harsh sanctions that deprive the Iranian population from food and life-saving medicine are not considered human rights violations. As I have discussed before, as a trope, the “people of Iran” constitutes a population, which is produced through the discourse of rights, while being subjected to death exactly because of those rights. In fact, the protection of the rights of the Iranian population is presented as the raison d’être of sanctions and/or war. Shuttling between biopolitics and necropolitics, the Iranian population is subjected to the normalizing techniques of liberal democracy, while being disposable as that which contains the threat of terrorism. Not reduced to bare life, but produced through the discourse of rights, the Iranian population lives a pending death (through economic sanctions or the hovering threat of a military attack) in the name of rights. As enticing as it is to be enthusiastic about the alleged “sexual revolution” in Iran, the politics of rightful killing renders the hippie motto “make love not war” meaningless, when making love is implicated in a war machine that marches to the tune of “killing me softly with your rights.”

 

Palestine is Still the Issue | Interview – The Angry Arab on Zionism, Syria, and more

Palestine

Originally from Lebanon, As’ad AbuKhalil is professor of political science at California State University, a well known commentator on Arabic TV stations such as Al-Jazeera, and runs a popular blog, which he writes in English, called The Angry Arab News Service.

He is known for his radical leftist political stances and, in particular, his emphatic support for the Palestinian struggle. However, he has recently received criticism from readers and former fans for his stance on Syria (he is against both the Assad regime and the opposition’s Syrian National Council).

In January, AbuKhalil was in the UK for a speaking tour of university Palestine societies titled “The Case Against Israel”. The day before his first talk at Goldsmiths University, I sat down with the professor in an Edgware Road cafe to discuss his thoughts on the Palestine solidarity movement, the historical significance of the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, the uprising in Syria, as well as other regional developments. I started off by asking him about his speaking tour.

As`ad AbuKhalil: I am going around to speak on making the case against Israel. I’m not going to be making any qualifications, or any disclaimers. I think I am of a generation who have seen too many Arab intellectuals, particularly in the United States, who used to get awkward and nervous whenever, after giving a long talk about the Palestinians, they are faced with a Zionist in the audience who would ask them: “But do you accept the existence of Israel?” And I’ve seen so many famous names dance around that question… I have become influenced by it in a way to be very categorical about it. When I started speaking publicly about Palestine in the United States, in the first few cases I was confronted by these same people who would stand up and say “But do you recognise the state of Israel?” And to that I would answer “Of course I wouldn’t!”

Asa Winstanley: So they don’t bother now?

AA: That never comes [up] anymore! And I felt like: that was so easy, why didn’t they all do that before? Since Oslo there is a trend in the pro-Palestinian community, particularly those with links to the PLO, to make the case for Palestine palatable with a case for Zionism. And that’s why I am here to oppose it.

AW: Why do you think Israel seems to be so sensitive to the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement?

AA: Since I left Lebanon in 1983, I have seen an erosion in the standing of Israel, especially in the eyes of Western liberals. When I left, these were the hardcore supporters… Public opinion in Europe has markedly changed over the last few decades. So much so that in almost all countries, even Germany, there is more support for Palestinians than for Israelis.

In Russia, after the rise of the supposed Islamic fundamentalist threat over there, there has been in fact a rise in the support for Israel, but if you talk about Scandinavian countries, or England, or France, and so on. I mean the public opinion is now, in England, more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli when they are asked that question. But now of course that does not translate into the political parties of the House of Commons or places like that.

In America, it has remained the same. It’s still 63 percent for Israel, versus [about] 12 or 13 percent for Palestinians. But what has changed even in America is that the bedrock of support for Israel has shifted from American liberals to hardcore Southern Baptists, Republicans, conservatives. So Israel is aware that they have an image problem, that they did not used to have a few decades ago, and they are particularly sensitive about college campuses… Why? Because they know this is their future generation of leaders, and if this bug gets to spread all around, it’s going to be hurting Israel in the long term. Assuming Israel’s going to be around by the time they reach power. In America, of course, there is such a big gap between college campus activism on Palestine (or any matter) and the very closed, conservative nature of Congress, that Israelis have less to worry about – and yet they seem to be worried.

AW: Why do you think BDS has taken off so much in the last five to six years?

AA: Israel does not do the just thing in the new world after the Cold War. Zionists still operate the way it did back in the 1880s, when they arrived in Palestine. They still use the same brazen and blatant racist resort to war crimes and massacres that they used all along, and I think they realise that it is much more shocking and horrific by the standards of today, and as a result there is an avalanche of reaction against Israel that has been generated in Western countries.

AW: What are the differences between the BDS movement in its modern form, and the more historical Arab boycott of Israel?

AA: The Arab boycott of Israel was much more strict… On the popular level it is [still] extremely strict: refusal of travel to Israel for any purposes – tourism of any form… There are disagreements about the visits, for example, some believe that if you go to Palestinian areas for activism and you can stay in Palestinian areas, spend money there and it’s fine, as long as you boycott any companies who trade with Israel.

The Arab boycott has been extremely effective – the loosening of it has been at the official level. When I was growing up, there was this simultaneous double boycott of Israel. There was the popular level that did not need any instruction, and then there was the official level, which was bad… So the BDS movement is a continuation, I think, of an Arab League official plan.

AW: What is your opinion of activists, quite often from Europe and America, who go to occupied Palestine?

AA: I have no problems with that whatsoever. I have a distinction made about Arabs who go there – those who have Arab citizenship, even if they have a passport from elsewhere. I am not against Palestinians who hold citizenship in America to go to Palestine, because that’s their home. But as long as Israel is occupying the land, and to abide by the Arab League boycott of Israel, I still believe we should adhere, and that all Arab citizens should not pass through Israeli soldiers’ checkpoints to enter into Palestine. If you do, it’s in areas where you do not have to go through them.

AW: So what’s the material difference there?

AA: That we have an Arab League boycott. The Arab League never did anything good! But they did [make] this plan of boycott of Israel, which I believe is something we should support.

AW: Many activists who go to Palestine are actually from Sweden, Norway, Scandinavian countries.

AA: Amazing. Those countries, when you go there, sometimes if you will stay for a week you will see a demonstration about Palestine somewhere – posters about Palestine everywhere – it’s amazing. Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands – it’s advanced. Over there, being pro-Palestinian is becoming part of the definition of being a leftist. I mean it’s easy to be a leftist against war in general – the John Lennon version. The challenge is to be a leftist in a way that puts real challenge to the powers of government and the super powers around the world, because you can really expose the hypocrisy on the question on Palestine. This is why Palestine becomes more symbolic for many activists. It’s not only about Palestine, it’s about the hypocrisy of the Western world.

AW: I think I read in one interview a Scandinavian activist saying that Palestine had become the Vietnam of our time.

AA: Yes, absolutely. And I’m glad that Jane Fonda is not on our side. Who wants her?

AW: Western activists who go to Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank will quite often come into contact with Israeli activists, some of whom are anti-Zionist. You’ve said on your blog that you’re against any contact with Israelis, basically. Is that a fair understanding of your position?

AA: This is not an easy position, but that is my position. I have taken that position for a while. [Once] I was giving a talk at SOAS here in London and my hosts were sitting with me, and one of them was a graduate student and it was clear that she is one of the activists on Palestine. So suddenly it occurred to me to ask her, based on her accent, I said: “Are you Israeli?” and she said “Yeah, I am”. I said “have you served in the army?” and then she told me yes, that she was an instructor in the Israeli army. And then I had to tell her, “Well, let me tell you my position: I cannot talk to you.” Everyone around her, even her teacher (and one of her teachers is a good friend of mine) are telling me that she’s a wonderful person, that she has made a radical transformation, and I said “But that’s my position.”

And it’s not because of ideological dogmatism that I take this position, at all. It’s really, like, emotional. I mean, I get bothered – I just get bothered. To be sitting and chatting with somebody, and then thinking that this person may have killed a brother or sister… You know, I just can’t do that. Even with Ilan Pappe – I was telling [my wife] Farah – I was with him on a panel once, I didn’t ask that question. He’s done great work, but he served, right?

AW: I read in his memoirs that he did.

AA: Yeah, and as a result I remember I made a conscious effort not to shake his hand. So it bothers me. There is one known Arab here, who has been an adviser to Yasser Arafat and I told him, I said: “Don’t you have a psychological barrier?” Because it’s huge in my case and I don’t want to cross it and he told me “I do, but I feel like I have to cross it for another purpose”… I mean it’s psychological and personal… and for me, I am not for the categorical rejection of anyone. I have elaborated a position which [laughs] which basically…

AW: You wrote on your blog you’re opposed to contact with any Israeli, except where they’ve taken armed resistance against Israel.

AA: … they are resistant against Israel, or if they leave the land. There’s this socialist, anarchist Israeli who keeps sending me email, and he wrote an open letter to me one time. I never responded to him, I couldn’t.

AW: So do you think Westerners who make contact with Israelis are breaking a boycott?

AA: Not necessarily. I’m not dogmatic about that. They have a different experience, and I know their motives are very good, and I’m sure [the activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer] Rachel Corrie, who paid with her life for the cause, had dealt with Israelis, and I’m not in any way going to to delegitimise what she does for that… But this is for me – I’m not in any way saying that this is national or international policy, you know, this is suitable for me, it may not be suitable for someone else. I know many Arabs who disagree with me. Farah disagrees with me on this…

AW: There is a difference between a personal opinion and a general boycott strategy.

AA: Yea, yea, of course. This is the suitable position for me. There are Arabs I know who are activists, who deal with Israelis and I don’t reject them in any way, I’m not judgemental like that. But for me, I cannot.

Farah Rowaysati: The BDS [movement] does not call for boycotts against Israelis as persons, it calls for the boycott of institutions.

AA: But I am for super-BDS.

FR: I’m against dealing with Israelis who are Zionists…

AA: One time I gave a talk in Berkley, and this guy came up to me and said, “I’m an Israeli and I really agree with everything you say, I’m going to go back and work for human rights after I finish my law degree for the Palestinians” and I was like “Well, you know I don’t speak to Israelis” and he said “Yeah I know, I understand: I just wanted you to know” [laughs].

I’m happier like this, you know what I’m saying? I have a huge psychological block… We come from South Lebanon, both of us, which is so directly affected. We both grew up in homes that are within a few miles from Palestinian refugee camps.

FR:We’ve experienced several wars.

AW: What do you make of Gilad Atzmon? He is an Israeli saxophonist – a jazz musician who expresses support for Palestinians.

AA: I have declared him an anti-Semitic person based on things I’ve read. And that upset many Western supporters of this guy, and Arabs. I have refused any contact with this guy and, you know me: I’m strict about many things… and one of them is refusing any association with anybody who has the slightest tinge of anti-Semitism. And he has more than a tinge of anti-Semitism – he basically, writes against –

AW: ‘Jewishness’ is what he calls it… He’s a strange character because he keeps cropping up every few years and there keeps being controversy about him. He lives here [in London] by the way.

AA: Oh really? Call me paranoid – I mean that, please do, call me conspiratorial – I know there are genuine anti-Semites who creep into our movement, but I do worry that there are some infiltrators who pose as anti-Semites to stigmatise the movement. I’m not sure which group he belongs to, but either way I don’t want him [around]. It would be funny if he was sitting here in the cafe, right now.

AW: [Laughs] With all this news about Israeli organisations that want to sabotage the “delegitimization” movement [like the Reut Institute], people are getting justifiably paranoid about spies or infiltrators. Especially in London.

AA: It’s legitimate to be paranoid. I have heard enough by people in the United States about their experiences in the 1960s and 70, and many of them tell me that the loudest big-mouths during the 60s and 70s were the ones who turned out to be turncoats, the ones who would say during meetings, you know: “Let’s go and bomb that building!”

AW: You recently commented on your blog about Hamas being “for sale”. What did you mean?

AA: Al-Quds al Arabi had this story on the front page in which [Hamas leader] Khalid Maashal was cited – he was under pressure by the Saudis, that they would not have any dealing with Hamas unless he cuts all ties with Iran. And he was quoted as saying something to the effect that “I would accept that, if Saudi Arabia was providing the same support that I’ve been getting from Iran.”

So to me that indicated that Hamas is up for sale. I have always been suspicious of this guy, and never liked him (I’ve always felt that he is leading the movement on the footsteps of Fatah)… Look how [Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza] Ismail Haniyeh, when he went for his tour recently, asked to stop in Saudi Arabia.

AW: So how do you think those comments are related to the wave of Arab uprising the previous year, and the rise to prominence of the Muslim Brotherhood?

AA: [Many Palestinians] are worried that the Arab uprisings are marginalising the coverage of the Palestinians, and I share that kind of worry. Ismail Haniyeh strikes me as much more sincere than Khalid Maashal despite my opposition to the ideology of the movement and its practices. On the other hand, I think they also want to take advantage of the rise of the horrible Muslim Brotherhood, and I think the lousy Muslim Brotherhood is one of the reasons why I find Hamas to be very problematic.

It is a by-product of the Muslim Brotherhood which has contributed really nothing to the struggle for Palestinians… Look at Rashid Ghanuchi [leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda party], who flies all the way to Washington DC to prostrate and speak before Zionist groups and offer to not include in the new [Tunisian] constitution an article that will ban normalisation with Israel — which tells you that they buy and sell.

AW: I put on Twitter that I was going to interview you, and I got several Syrians angrily Tweeting questions.

AA: On Facebook, if you read Arabic… both sides are very unhappy with me, and the Syrian regime side, they have a lot of supporters. And both sides are unhappy. What can I say? I have nothing to apologise for. If anything, I think the positions taken by the Syrian National Council have reinforced every single suspicion and doubt that I have harboured against them all along. I do believe there is a real conspiracy, and I believe there is an attempt to hijack a legitimate uprising against a repressive regime.

AW: One question on Twitter was: “How does it feel to be called a regime apologist?”

AA: If some intellectual goons of the Syrian National Council think that they can intimidate me or delegitimize what I do, by calling me a “regime stooge” or something like that, of course that’s not going to bother me, because I know myself. I mean, as long as I get a daily barrage of criticisms, and sometimes insults – not as obscene as the ones I get from the other side, but still from the side of the regime – I know where I stand.

When I was opposed to the Syrian regime in 1976 when they invaded Lebanon, to crush a great leftist movement at the time, these people who are criticising me now were not even born. So I don’t need any sermons about the stance against the Syrian regime. Their intellectual method is very clear. It’s quite funny, in fact – you may be opposed to the Syrian regime, you may call for its overthrow, you may support armed rebellion against the Syrian regime. But – if you don’t support the Syrian National Council, you are for the regime. What the fuck is that? It’s absurd. In other words, I want to reassure my enemies that their attacks on me and name-calling do not bother me in the least, and the more they come, the better. I want to make the life of my enemies miserable…

I don’t support the Free Syrian Army. Now I have received information that the Free Syrian Army of Riad al-Assad comes from the background of Hizb ut-Tahrir [a political-religious movement]. No, I don’t support that. I don’t support pawns of Turkish, Islamist intelligence. But the principle: I am in favour of the right of every Arab population to raise arms against its government. Absolutely, and I make no apologies about that.

AW: The Tunisian government as well?

AA: Absolutely!

AW: One of your criticisms of Al-Jazeera [the popular Arabic satellite TV channel owned by the royal family of Qatar] is that they now rely on anonymous sources a lot. Someone on Twitter wanted me to ask: “why then do you use anonymous sources on your blog?”

AA: I am not a newspaper. I am not a TV station. I am a blogger who is doing a very personal thing. I share whatever information I have, and even rumours. Sometimes I receive rumours and I share them with people. Sometimes they are true, sometimes they are not – and whenever I am given evidence that something I have put is wrong, I always say that I’m correcting it, and I don’t change it. I have a policy of never re-editing things I have posted after I’ve posted them.

On Al-Jazeera [Arabic], when they used to air Bin Laden’s tapes, they used to put the disclaimer every time: “We have not yet authenticated this statement” — even when it was very clear it’s Bin Laden! [But now] whenever they put various clips from YouTube, they never have any disclaimers…

AW: So don’t you think journalists might have reason to be using anonymous sources in Syria?

AA: I did not in any way oppose the use of anonymous sources in journalism. I was making the point about how Al-Jazeera is now comical. This is like a caricature of propaganda TV in the Arab world…

AW: What accounts for the shift? Is it purely [Qatari] reconciliation with Saudi Arabia?

AA: Absolutely… Basically, Al-Jazeera have become to me much more malleable, much more obedient in its service for the shifts in Qatari foreign policy than I’d expected. But it has become a campaign by Qatar and whatever Qatar represents… It has become so feverish, the campaign is so comical, it’s so lacking in credibility, and therefore lending an undeniable, unwitting hand to the Syrian regime.

AW: A final question on Palestine and Palestinian solidarity: what do you think is the main thing to focus on, strategically?

AA: Non-compromise on the total rejection of Israel. I believe the total rejection of Zionism in Palestine should be in the platform and the plan of every movement. I think all these attempts to reconcile Palestine and Israel, and “let’s live together as Israelis and Palestinians in two separate states” – all that is going to be at the expense of the lives and the cause of the Palestinians. And for me, any movement that does not reject – categorically – Zionism, is akin to a movement against apartheid South Africa that basically wants a reconciliation with apartheid, and there should be no doubt about that part. You know, we should insist on that part.

AW: Thanks for your time.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” has been published by Pluto Press. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears monthly. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

Bless us anyway – we want more life!

Dear Steal this Hijab Readers,

Thanks for reading, listening, gazing, and opinionating!

I started this blog for many reasons. I think the most important of which came from the need to respond intelligently to a question that was very often posed to me – “WHAT?!!! Islamic feminism?! Is there such a thing????”

Well, as a brief perusal of the blog might indicate, there is indeed a space where ‘Islam‘ and ‘feminism’ meet. What is Islamic about our feminism, or feminist about our Islam is the question. Is this a feminist blog? The simple answer is yes! Is it an Islamic blog? Ah, jury’s out. Religion and the modern world have had some issues, and they aren’t anywhere near resolved.

What the blog isn’t is an overly simplified, easily quantified, essentialization of gender, religion, sexuality, or politics. And I hope that reflects the heterogeneity of the subjects explored.

My hope is that the blog be provocative – intentionally or not – because I think that in the space where we stretch our conceptions of what is possible, where we dare to be wrong, where we bear the vastness of the universe, we realize that there is something bigger than “fact” (male/female).

I think to question those things that are most deep within us, whether it’s a religion, an identity or a political creed is to be living as if you are alive (pregnant) with the knowledge that the world is something that still holds so much potential.

I think a lot about something Prior Walter says in Tony Kushner‘s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. You see Walter is this gay man of colour from New York who finds out he has AIDS (in the 80’s) and he’s trying to cope with his inevitable demise. And in the midst of this situation he finds a lot of humor and some interesting wisdom that I think speaks powerfully to the spirit of this blog and the whole notion of being an Islamic feminist – something so human and yet so provocative.

Prior says, “I’ve lived through such terrible times and there are people who live through much worse. But you see them living anyway. When they’re more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they’re burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children – they live. Death usually has to take life away. I don’t know if that’s just the animal. I don’t know if it’s not braver to die, but I recognize the habit; the addiction to being alive. So we live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that’s it, that’s the best I can do. It’s so much not enough. It’s so inadequate. But still bless me anyway. I want more life.” 

Steal this Hijab reaches into [her]story, politics, philosophy, art, sociology, culture, . . . to find those discussions, those connections, those ways of seeing (as John Berger so eloquently put) that might cultivate our political imaginations. We beg for more life in the conversations around us. We live past hope, even where we find the world so inadequate, so cruel, so uncompromising, so static.

But. . . bless us anyway – we want more life!

western feminism’s relationship with Islamic feminism and notions of “visibility”

by Ari Burton

(originally published in hoax zine)

The first book I ever bought on Islamic feminism sits on the shelf adjacent to the bed in my childhood room. Its maroon cover is subsumed by the mountain of books piled on top of it in order to maximize shelf space. I remember the amalgamation of tan lettering that forms the title without even having to pull it off the shelf; In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman’s Global Journey by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. It marks my adolescent forays into feminist theory, the excitement which bounced off the walls of my pubescent soul at having discovered women’s liberation. No longer did I feel like the overly-radical black outcast plopped smack dab in white quasi-Republican suburbia. Other people in the world wanted to talk about gender equality instead of occasionally yelling “girl power” because the Spice Girls made it trendy for little white girls to coyfully bite back at patriarchy all while still falling into the same fucked up mousetraps of beauty standards and sexist ideals. This book was one of many which helped me feel less alone, despite having never actually read it.

Now, two days away from marking a month of living as a Muslim woman, I want nothing more than to throw it away. I want to send it packing along with its literary compatriots whose pages embark on Christopher Columbus-eque missions, charting boats made of words and punctuation marks into this new, unfamiliar world called Islamic feminism. I want to stop the boots of these intellectual conquistadors from leaving their footprints on land they have very little business treading, because their manifest mission isn’t to understand how Muslim feminist movements fit into the frameworks of the societies they exist in, but to find reflections of white western feminist ideals transplanted in an unexpected geographic locale. They want to find a Rose the River with a “Middle Eastern” name who carries the banner of “Yes We Can” in her own native language. They want to delight in these “oppressed” women challenging the patriarchal conventions placed over their niqab covered heads by readings great works such as Lolita and The Feminine Mystique, books that theoretically demonstrate a liberated person in the same western imagination which still sees that part of the world as being backwards and behind. They want to see these women burn their burkas in place of bras, don power suits or pants, and blast Middle eastern reduxes of riot-grrl music in their eco-friendly compact cars to show the world that feminism has come to the war-torn, poverty-stricken, patriarchal sand dunes.

Essentially feminists like Fernea have no vested interest in actual Islamic feminism and its visibility in the global fight for gender egalitarianism. Their scholarship masquerades under the guise of expose journalism, purportedly shedding light on what is thought to be a great oxymoron. They hop international flights seeking to understand this great unknown, returning to the west with their own feminist ethnographies meant to aid others in the “holistic” study of women and gender in the academic sphere. In reality they merely want to look in a trans-planted mirror and see themselves.

For a genre which claims to bring about higher levels of visibility, the scholarship of white western feminists seeking to understand Islamic feminism does the complete opposite. This genre of scholarship is not about Islamic feminists and how they navigate the tensions of their world to their individual identities. Readers who pick up these books will be hard-pressed to find Islamic feminists speaking from their own voices. These are not edited anthologies where women are given the page space to discuss themselves in the context of their political movement, their personal lives and the global fight for gender egalitarianism. Instead they are regulated to the space inside the occasional set of quotation marks and the descriptions which are supposed to provide context to the commentary. Much like the book and movie The Help, the portrays of these women are about as dimensional as matzah bread and continually imposes their western feminist paradigm onto the lived experience while using these women’s voices as validation.

This type of scholarship has not only made a severe mockery of Islamic feminism by regulating its participants and their stories to side show status, but it has effectively succeeded in putting a distinct face on an entire movement of people. Islamic feminist in this purview does not mean a women-identified Muslim who believes in ideas of gender egalitarianism, but generally an Arab woman living in a Muslim country fighting that society’s patriarchal standards and working to be more liberated in line with her western sisters in the struggle. She is shucking away the husks of her backward, oppressive, religious society and stepping into the sunshine of modernity to warm and tan her kernels. She is the face of Islamic feminism, a cardboard cutout concocted by the chimerical imaginations of western feminists who refuse to believe global gender egalitarianism can come if women make different choices than those who identify with the feminist movement living in America. She plays into the notion that a monolithic global movement is the only way to progress, and people in the developing world would be wise to hop on the band-wagon before others have to come in and save them. She silences the voices of those who believe in gender egalitarianism but are not Arab and living in Middle Eastern Muslim societies. Her existence as a fantasy character for which western feminism gets to role-play signals to a larger problem about the relationship to academic scholarship and the Muslim world, that Muslim is automatically connotated with Arab Middle Easterners, and the analytic frameworks built around them is supposed to trickle down to the rest of the Muslim world.

I can honestly say as a queer Muslim womanist, the scholarship surrounding Arab Muslim feminists has fuck all to do with me. That cardboard cutout circulating as the face of global Islamic feminism doesn’t speak for me. She doesn’t speak for the African diasporic Muslim women who are forming their own relationships with gender egalitarianism in the worlds they live in and the Muslim spaces they navigate. She doesn’t speak for the ways in which gender egalitarian movements manifest themselves in predominately Muslim African countries which are non-Arab and the specific challenges they face. She only flushes our experiences out of existence and into a sea of other non-Arab Muslim folk who believe in the gender egalitarian movement but are not given the space to speak for themselves.

She’ll never speak for me as a Muslim womanist because in my mind the two geographic locals and their gender struggles hardly apply to each other. I don’t live under Shar’ia law, but instead a constitutional framework masquerading as secular but still taking its kickbacks from the Bible and the people who thump it. I do not engage with western institutions and notions of modernity because I think they are ideal, but because its what’s necessary to survive in the United States of America. I refuse to leave this country because in my mind colonization has pretty much wrecked the collective minds and memories of the global world to the point where the majority are all grindin to try and fit this framework which is finally crumbling in the western world. There really is nowhere else to go, and even if there was I refuse let this place fall to the descendants of dogs. My ancestors helped built this motherfucker, built a legacy of upward social mobility while still paying their dues to social justice, and I’ll be damned if I get run off simply because some foolish fucks wanna be a post-racial society that subsequently decimates its populations of color all over again.

Most importantly, I do not need the likes of white western feminism to have a fetishizing pity party on my behalf for simply being brown, modest, and religious. I made the choice to convert to Islam, made the choice to be modest and doing so didn’t invalidate my capability to make other choices. I didn’t loose the ability to speak for myself, which means I don’t need somebody who is unfamiliar with the intersections of my identities to take a Richard Burton voyage into the depths of my world and my soul only to come out with a more shallow understanding than they previously had in the first place.

I am just as verbose, crass, moderately unapologetic, cynical, and sarcastic as ever. I can speak for myself, yell for myself and rage for myself. I don’t need this body of scholarship to speak on my behalf and dissect my issues like an unsuspecting frog in a 6th grade science classroom. I need scholars like Fernea who think they are doing people like me a favor to take all of the seats. And if they need help finding one, maybe my poor little oppressed brown brain can muster up the mental faculties enough to line some up in an interesting formation so they feel as though they have a choice.   

hoax is a feminist collaborative zine attempting to find the connections between us despite our differences. it is co-edited by sari & rachel and kept alive by numerous contributors and people like you! feminists of all backgrounds & genders are encouraged to submit to this zine!

To order hoax 7 (where this article was first published) or back issues please visit their Etsy shop.

Sanctions Against Iran: A Duplicitous “Alternative” to War

by Raha Iranian Feminist Collective

Media reports on Iran oscillate wildly between threats of imminent military action and hopeful reports of diplomatic progress. Amidst this confusing din, there is a constant truth: the United States has not ceased its economic bullying of Iran, nor has the threat of war receded. As Dennis B. Ross, the Obama Administration’s former Iran advisor, told the New York Times, “now you have a focus on the negotiations…It doesn’t mean the threat of using force goes away, but it lies behind the diplomacy.” This echoes President Obama’s persistent refrain on Iran: “All options are on the table.” We argue that sanctions against Iran are not designed to work as an actual alternative to war, but rather are meant to, first of all, appease calls for sabre-rattling at home and by Israel; second, assert economic control over Iranian oil, while curbing Iran’s increasing influence in the region; and third, lay the groundwork for a diplomatic due-diligence claim in order to justify any potential military strike.
Diplomacy, also commonly thought of as an alternative to war, must be understood within the underlying context of the United States’ efforts to reestablish its sphere of influence over Iran, which it lost after the 1979 revolution. Ongoing talks between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany are not genuine negotiations, but rather are an effort to wring concessions from an economically weakened Iran. The dangerous outcome of these “talks” is that if Iran refuses to submit to Western bullying, the United States will be able to claim that diplomacy has failed, and move towards more aggressive means of achieving its agenda. The effect is that both diplomacy and sanctions become a prelude to war. If Iran does grant some concessions to the United States, this will only increase the US drive to regain access to Iranian oil as well as consumer markets and bring the two states one step closer to cutting a deal at the expense of ordinary Iranians.
Given the vast power imbalance between the two countries, “normalized relations” can only mean US support for another authoritarian regime. Note the fact that Libya achieved “peace” with the United States (that is, sanctions were lifted and it was taken off the State Department list of terrorists) at the very moment when it agreed to stop its nuclear program and allow US corporations a ninety percent share in its newly discovered oilfields. The two choices offered — subordination to the US or escalation of hostilities — are both unacceptable, since they thwart the self-determination of the Iranian people. In addition, the recent NATO invasion of Libya shows that normalized diplomatic relations can be tossed out the window at any time should the United States and its allies see the opportunity to insert their influence more forcefully.
Everyday life for the majority of Iranians is already becoming increasingly unbearable. The Western drumbeats of war are a death threat hanging over their heads, and sanctions erode living standards and hope for a viable future. In this context, we feel it is necessary to lay bare sanctions against Iran for what they really are — the consolidation of geopolitical hegemony and war by other means. This article responds to the stated justifications for sanctions and outlines the impact of sanctions on ordinary people. As feminists, we insist that lasting peace and security will be built by people on the ground in Iran who are mobilizing for political and economic justice — democratizing Iran from the inside out.
Nuclear Capacity
While the United States insists that Iran is developing a “nuclear capacity” — a new term in US rhetoric that allows for slippage between nuclear energy and nuclear weaponry — this is by no means justification for sanctions or war. The US accepts Israel’s nuclear weapons, as well as India’s and Pakistan’s — all of them states that have proven how dangerous they are by engaging in horrendous border wars, occupations, and political repression. Regardless of Iran’s nuclear program, US policies and threats are a way of forcing Iran to line up with US interests in the region. This realpolitik does not, however, mean that we should defend Iran’s “right” to nuclear energy or weapons. As feminists, we take a broader view of the nuclear issue, and see a sense of urgency in unpacking the claims of national rights and regional security.
The world has seen the destructive capacities of nuclear weaponry, and even the nightmare of nuclear energy disasters (in Chernobyl, and more recently in Japan), and has the right to demand an end to the suicidal and homicidal drive towards ever-expanding nuclear capacity. Scapegoating one nation, however, does little to promote the effective global nuclear disarmament that is an environmental, political, and humanitarian necessity. When it comes to nuclear weaponry, the United States has acted hypocritically, fueling a nuclear arms race with itself as the extreme front-runner. The only nation to actually drop nuclear bombs on civilian populations, the United States did so to establish itself as a superpower after World War II — at the expense of millions of people’s lives.
The United States keenly understands the use of nuclear weapons to promote regional dominance. In recent years, the United States has promoted the nuclear ambitions of its allies, like Israel, and turned a blind eye to the ambitions of other nuclear powers, including India and Pakistan, while focusing all of its political attention on Iran. Rather than accepting the cynical US sanctions effort against Iran, we instead need a reinvigorated global disarmament movement that opposes nuclear weaponry everywhere.
Besides bombs, nuclear energy has proven nearly as dangerous. After the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, Germany decided to close all of its nuclear reactors by 2022. Some European nations have followed by pledging to scale back their nuclear programs. Activists should demand that the United States take Germany s lead. Rather than crippling the Iranian people in order to ineffectively punish their leaders, the United States should halt the arms race by dismantling its own nuclear arsenal. The sad truth is that if Iran’s nuclear program poses a threat to anyone, it is to the Iranians who would live closest to the nuclear reactors.
We should not assume that all Iranians support a “right” to nuclear energy as a nationalist stance of defiance towards the West. Many Iranians are terrified to have a government they do not support or trust in charge of radioactive materials, capable of causing environmental devastation and health crises for generations to come. Just as most Americans do not want to live near a nuclear plant, neither do most Iranians. We stand in solidarity with Iranians and people around the world who demand an end to nuclear energy and weapons production.
 War by Other Means
While Iran has been subject to sanctions since the 1979 revolution, recent moves by the United States and European Union are significantly changing the economic and political landscape. In July 2011, President Obama announced the harshest set of sanctions to date, targeting Iran’s oil and banking industries and essentially barring any bank that processes Iranian oil transactions from doing business in the United States. The EU has agreed to ban any transactions with the sanctioned banks, while the SWIFT international banking system climbed on board to also block these banks as a way of intensifying the sanctions. Adding to the mix, the recent and unprecedented EU oil embargo — with a complete cessation of imports by member nations by July 2012 — further cripples the Iranian economy. We believe that Western powers are increasing the severity of the sanctions and targeting the central oil industry in order to completely collapse the Iranian economy, with the Iranian government presumably to follow.
These economic attacks are rapidly snowballing as Asian countries — Iran’s biggest clients for oil — are pressured to follow the US and EU lead. Japan and South Korea are expected to gradually eliminate their reliance on Iranian oil. Saudi Arabia, happy to help undercut its regional rival, is promising to increase its own oil production to fill in the gaps. Russia, far from a reliable Iranian ally despite its previous refusal to support US sanctions, is similarly seizing the opportunity to promote its own oil industry as an alternative to Iranian supplies. China and India, which together consume a third of Iran’s oil exports, have so far indicated their intentions to maintain trade ties with Iran, despite intense pressure from the United States. As Iran loses customers, the remaining importing nations are at a strategic advantage to force Iran to sell at even cheaper prices.
With oil exports accounting for fully half of the Iranian government’s revenue, the newly intensified sanctions, coupled with the EU oil embargo, contribute to the downward spiral of the Iranian economy. A recent spate of bankruptcies is directly tied to the new round of sanctions; meanwhile, foreign-owned factories, such as Hyundai and Peugeot, have caved to US pressure and agreed to shut down their manufacturing operations in Iran. Unemployment is already around twenty percent, and closer to thirty percent for people under thirty years old. The value of the Iranian currency, the rial, has plummeted vis-a-vis the dollar, and inflation has soared into the double digits: 22.5 percent for 2011, with even higher estimates for 2012. Inflation this dramatic affects all classes of Iranian society, as peoples ability to purchase goods and services, save money, or live off fixed incomes rapidly diminishes.
Sanctions as Collective Punishment
Iranians are feeling the effects of intensified sanctions as they shop for essentials, fill prescriptions for medicines, and look for work. The sanctions have seriously impeded imports of food staples such as rice and palm oil, as regional suppliers, such as Malaysia, India, and Ukraine, cancel shipments because sanctions now prohibit the processing of payments. As this squeeze on supply continues, the cost of many basic foodstuffs has increased by fifty to two hundred percent. Rice — a staple in Iranian households — jumped from two dollars a kilo last year to five dollars now.
These sanctions amount to nothing less than collective punishment for a population already suffering under the effects of internally imposed austerity measures, economic mismanagement, and police-state repression. According to testimonials gathered by women’s rights activists in Tehran, medicines for illnesses such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and other chronic diseases are either in short supply, completely unavailable, or no longer affordable even when supplies can be found. According to one pharmacist, “People with life threatening illnesses such as cancer can no longer afford to pay for the injections, so they either delay them or, mostly among poorer communities, totally forgo treatment.”
Children also suffer from sanctions. As economic conditions deteriorate, children have to leave school to help support their families. A thirty-five-year old woman explained that her husbands wages working as a porter in the bazaar no longer cover the family’s basic needs. When her husband insisted their son quit school to work, she explained, “I beat myself and cried so much that he finally relented and agreed to let our son go to school, provided that he works after school.”
Women are often the most victimized by sanctions because, as a group, they are the most economically vulnerable. Women have a harder time finding jobs, are among the first to get laid off, and have fewer workplace protections. As those primarily responsible for running their households, women face increased loads of stress trying to feed their families, obtain needed medication, and buy necessary goods amidst skyrocketing levels of inflation. A forty-five-year old housewife in Tehran reports, “In the last few months, I have bought very little protein such as meat and poultry and have also refrained from buying any clothes for the children.” At the micro-level of household economies, women bear the larger burden for managing their families’ survival. In Iran, as in all societies, increased militarism and violence at the global and national levels exacerbates inequalities between men and women. As societies become more militarized, so do the very citizens living within them; as fear, anxiety, and stress rise in the lives of ordinary people, so do patriarchal and violent responses to conflict and hardship in intimate life.
A Feminist Response to Sanctions
The history of US-led sanctions against Iran shows us that they actually strengthen the regime that they purportedly target. Even as sanctions single out the Revolutionary Guards, whose primary function is as the repressive strong arm of the state, they allow the Guards to behave like a mafia controlling lucrative black and grey markets. This contributes to the further impoverishment of Iranian people. At the same time, the Iranian government has used US aggression and sanctions to justify the extraordinary repression that it has unleashed on Iranian labor, civil society, and activist groups through mass arrests, suppression of public dissent, imprisonment, torture, and execution.
In an effort to present itself as a bulwark against US intervention in the Muslim world, Iran rhetorically spins its ability to withstand sanctions as a moral victory against imperialism, while quietly moving forward with its neoliberal economic policies, ever-increasing militarization, and suppression of opposition at home. Just as in the Iraqi case, US-led sanctions make grassroots democratic dissent much more difficult for ordinary Iranians living in Iran. At the same time, the Iranian government has only tightened its control on the flow of wealth and information in the country. In the conflict between empire and dictatorship, there is a great need for a third way beyond the militaristic dance of macabrestate-led politics as usual.
As feminists and anti-war activists, we believe it is ordinary people inside Iran who have the right to determine the direction and future of their society. We support the efforts of groups like the Iran-based Change for Equality, which began publishing a series of Women Against War videos on 8 March 2012 for International Women’s Day. It is with these and other activists from the labor and student movements in Iran that we stand in solidarity for a peaceful, just, and feminist alternative to all the options on the table.

The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community

by: Selma James (in her honour) 

Foreword

When this book was first published three years ago, it was already clear that the international movement of women had upset basic assumptions on which this society rested. In confronting what happens in the family and on the street, we have had to confront what happens in the factory, the office, the hospital, the school – in every institution of capitalist society.

This book offered the women’s movement a cohesive analysis, drawing on the descriptions by the movement of our diverse grievances. It offered a material foundation for ‘sisterhood’. That material foundation was the social activity, the work, which the female personality was shaped to submit to. That work was housework.

In singling out the work of the housewife as that for which women are trained and by which women are defined; in identifying its product as labour power – the working class -this book broke with all those previous analyses of capitalist society which began and ended in the factory, which began and ended with men. Our isolation in the family while doing our work had hidden its social nature. The fact that it brought no wage had hidden that it was work.

Serving men and children in wageless isolation had hidden that we were servingcapital. Now we know that we are not only indispensable to capitalist production in those countries where we are 45% of their waged labour force We are always their indispensable workforce, at home, cleaning, washing and ironing; making, disciplining and bringing up babies; servicing men physically, sexually and emotionally.

If our wageless work is the basis of our powerlessness in relation both to men and to capital, as this book, and our daily experience, confirm, then wages for that work, which alone will make it possible for us to reject that work, must be our lever of power. If our need for a wage and our need to break from our isolation have driven us to a second job outside the home, to more work at low pay, then our alternative to isolation and wagelessness must be a social/ struggle for the wage.

This perspective and practice derives directly from the theoretical analysis of this book. But even when the authors understood that Wages for Housework was the perspective which flowed logically from their analysis, they could not know all its implication. (See footnotes 16 and 1 7 on pp.54-55 below.) The book has been the starting point not for ‘a school of thought’ but for an international network of organisations which are campaigning for Wages for Housework.

Some of those who have disagreed with the analysis, and with the perspective ofWages for Housework that flows from it, have said that the perspective may apply to Italy but not to Britain or North America. The fact that an Italian woman, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, signed the main article, was proof for them of its geographic limitations. In fact, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James wrote’Women and the Subversion of the Community’ together, as Mariarosa Dalla Costa herself has said publicly many times. The proof of the international implications of the analysis, however, lies not in the national origins of its authors, but in the international campaign for Wages for Housework which has now begun.

Power of Women Collective,Comitato per il Salano Britainal Lavoro Domestico di Padova July 1975(Padua Wages for Housework Committee)

PUBLISHERS’ NOTE We have left the text of Selma James’s introduction unchanged, even though, as the above Foreword makes clear, in referring to ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community Selma James is in fact referring to an article of which she joint author.

=========

Introduction

The two articles which follow were written 19 years and 7,000 miles apart.

The first, “Women and the Subversion of the Community”, is a product of the new women’s movement in Italy. It is a major contribution to the question posed by the existence of a growing international movement of women: What is the relation of women to capital and what kind of struggle can we effectively wage to destroy it? We must hastily add that this is not the same as asking: What concessions can we wring from the enemy? – though this is related. To pose the first question is to assume we’ll win; to pose the second is to calculate what we can salvage from the wreck of defeat. But in struggling to win, plenty can be gained along the way.

Up to now, the women’s movement has had to define itself unaided by any serious heritage of Marxist critique of women’s relation to the capitalist plan of development and underdevelopment. Quite the opposite. We inherited a distorted and reformist concept of capital itself as a series of things which we struggle to plan, control or manage, rather than as a social relation which we struggle to destroy.1 Bypassing that heritage or lack of it, our movement explored the female experience, beginning with what we personally knew it to be. This is how we have been able for the first time on a mass scale to describe with profound insight and cutting precision the degradation of women and the shaping of our personality by forces which intended that we accept this degradation, accept to be quiet and powerless victims. On the basis of these discoveries, two distinct political tendencies have emerged, apparently opposite extremes of the political spectrum within the women’s movement.

Among those who have insisted that caste and not class was fundamental, some women have asserted that what they call an “economic analysis” could not encompass, nor could a political struggle end, the physical and psychological oppression of women. They reject revolutionary political struggle. Capital is immoral, needs reforms and should be left behind, they say (thereby implying that the reforms are a moral obligation which are themselves a negotiated and above all non-violent transition to “socialism”), but it is not the only enemy. We must change men and/or ourselves first. So that not only political struggle is rejected; so is liberation for the mass of women who are too busy working and seeing after others to look for a personal solution.

The possible future directions of these politics vary, mainly because this point of view takes a number of forms depending on the stratum of women who hold it. An elite club of this type can remain introverted and isolated – harmless except as it discredits the movement generally. Or it can be a source of those managerial types in every field which the class in charge is looking for to perform for. it ruling functions over rebellious women and, god bless equality, over rebellious men too.2 Integral to this participation in the marginal aspects of ruling, by the way, is an ambition and rivalry up to now primarily identified with men.

But history, past and future, is not simple. We have to note that some of the most incisive discoveries of the movement and in fact its autonomy have come from women who began by basing themselves on a repudiation of class and class struggle. The task of the movement now is to develop a political strategy on the foundations of these discoveries and on the basis of this autonomy.

Most of those who have insisted from the beginning that class and not caste was fundamental have been less able to translate our psychological insights into autonomous and revolutionary political action. Beginning with a male definition of class, the liberation of women is reduced to equal pay and a “fairer” and more efficient welfare State.3 For these women capital is the main enemy but because it is backward, not because it exists. They don’t aim to destroy the capitalist social relation but only to organize it more rationally. (The extra-parliamentary left in Italy would call this a “socialist” as distinct from a revolutionary position.) What a rationized capital-equal pay, more and better nurseries, more and better jobs, etc. can’t fix, they call “oppression” which, like Topsy, the orphaned slave child who never knew her parents, “just growed”. Oppression disconnected from material relations is a problem of “consciousness”-in this case, psychology masquerading in political jargon. And so the “class analysis” has been used to limit the breadth of the movement’s attack and even undermine the movement’s autonomy.

The essentially similar liberal nature of these two tendencies, wanting to rationally manage “society” to eliminate “oppression”, is not usually apparent until we see the “political” women and these “non-political” women join together on concrete demands or, more often, against revolutionary actions. Most of us in the movement belong to neither of these tendencies and have had a hard time charting a course between them. Both ask us: “Are you a feminist or are you political?”

The “political” women who talk of class are easy to identify. They are the women’s liberationists whose first allegiance is not to the women’s movement but to organizations of the male-dominated left. Once strategy and action originate from a source outside of women, women’s struggle is measured by how it is presumed to affect men, otherwise known as “the workers”, and women’s consciousness by whether the forms of struggle they adopt are the forms men have traditionally used.

The “political” women see the rest of us as non-political and this has tended to drive us together in self-protection, obscuring or playing down real political differences among us. These now are beginning to make themselves felt. Groups which call themselves Psychology Groups (I’m not talking here about consciousness raising groups) tend to express the politics of caste most coherently.4 But whichever quarter they come from, viewing women as a caste and only a caste is a distinct political line which is increasingly finding political and organizational expression in every discussion of what to do. In the coming period of intense working class activity, as we are forced to create our own political framework, casting away second-hand theories of male-dominated socialist movements, the pre-eminence of caste will be posed as the alternative and will have to be confronted and rejected as well. On this basis alone can the new politics inherent in autonomy find its tongue and its muscle.

This process of development is not unique to the women’s movement. The Black movement in the US (and elsewhere) also began by adopting what appeared to be only a caste position in Opposition to the racism of white male-dominated groups. Intellectuals in Harlem and Malcolm X, that great revolutionary, were both nationalists, both appeared to place color above class when the white left were still chanting variations of “Black and white unite and fight”, or “Negroes and Labour must join together”. The Black working class was able through this nationalism to redefine class: overwhelmingly Black and Labor were synonymous (with no other group was Labor as synonymous except perhaps with women), the demands of Blacks and the forms of struggle created by Blacks were the most comprehensive working class demands and the most advanced working class struggle. This struggle was able to attract to itself the best elements among the intellectuals who saw their own persecution as Blacks-as a caste-grounded in the exploitation of Black workers. These intellectuals who got caught in the moment of nationalism after the class had moved beyond it saw race in increasingly individual terms and made up that pool from which the State Department could hook the fish of tokenism appointing a Black as special presidential advisor on slum clearance, for example-and the personnel of a new, more integrated technocracy.

In the same way women for whom caste is the fundamental issue will make the transition to revolutionary feminism based on a redefinition of class or invite integration into the white male power structure.

But “‘Marxist’ women,” as a woman from the movement in New Orleans says, “are just ‘Marxist’ men in drag.” The struggle as they see it is not qualitatively different from the one the organized labor movement under masculine management has always commended to women, except that now, appended to the “general struggle”, is something called “women’s liberation” or women s struggle” voiced by women themselves. This “general struggle” I take to mean the class struggle. But there is nothing in capitalism which is not capitalistic, that is, not part of the class struggle. The questions are (a) Are women except when they are wage workers auxiliary to capitalism (as has been assumed) and therefore auxiliary to a more basic, more general struggle against capitalism; and (b) Can anything ever have been “general” which has excluded so many women for so long? Rejecting on the one hand class subordinated to feminism and on the other feminism subordinated to class, Mariarosa Dalla Costa has confronted what (to our shame) has passed for Marxism with the female experience that we have been exploring and struggling to articulate. The result has been a translation of our psychological insights into a critique of the political economy of the exploitation of women, the theoretical basis for a revolutionary and autonomous women’s struggle. Based on what we know of how we are degraded, she moves into the question of why, in a depth as far as I know not reached before.

* * *

One great achievement of Marx was to show that the specific social relations between people in the production of the necessities of life, relations which spring up without their conscious planning, “behind the backs of individuals” (Menschen – previously translated as men), distinguish one society from another. That is, in class society, the form of the relation between people through which the ruling class robs the exploited of their labor is unique in each historic epoch, and all other social relations in the society, beginning with the family and including every other institution, reflect that form. For Marx history was a process of struggle of the exploited, who continually provoke over long periods and in sudden revolutionary leaps changes in the basic social relations of production and in all the institutions which are an expression of these relations. The family, then, was the basic biological unit differing in form from one society to another, directly related to the way people produce. According to him, the family, even before class society, had the subordinated woman as its pivot; class society itself was an extension of the relations between men on the one hand and women and children on the other, an extension, that is, of the man’s command over the labor of his woman and his children.

The women’s movement has gone into greater detail about the capitalist family. After describing how women are conditioned to be subordinated to men, it has described the family as that institution where the young are repressed from birth to accept the discipline of capitalist relations-which in Marxist terms begins with the discipline of capitalist work. Other women have identified the family as the center of consumption, and yet others have shown that housewives make up a hidden reserve work force: “unemployed” women work behind closed doors at home, to be called out again when capital needs them elsewhere.

The Dalla Costa article affirms all the above, but places them on another basis: the family under capitalism is a center of conditioning, of consumption and of reserve labor, but a center essentially of social production, When previously so-called Marxists said that the capitalist family did not produce for capitalism, was not part of social production, 5 it followed that they repudiated women’s potential social power. Or rather, presuming that women in the home could not have social power, they could not see that women in the home produced. If your production is vital for capitalism, refusing to produce, refusing to work, is a fundamental lever of social power.

Marx’s analysis of capitalist production was not a meditation on how the society “ticked”. It was a tool to find the way to overthrow it, to find the social forces who, exploited by capital, were subversive to it. Yet it was because he was looking for the forces that would inevitably overthrow capital that he could describe capital’s social relations which are pregnant with working class subversion. It is because Mariarosa Dalla Costa was looking for women’s lever of social power among those forces that she was able to uncover that even when women do not work out of their homes, they are vital producers.

The commodity they produce, unlike all other commodities, is unique to capitalism: the living human being – “the laborer himself”, Capital’s special way of robbing labor is by paying the worker a wage that is enough to live on (more or less) and to reproduce other workers. But the worker must produce more in the way of commodities than what his wage is worth. The unpaid surplus labor is what the capitalist is in business to accumulate and what gives him increasing power over more and more workers: he pays for some labor to get the rest free so he can command more labor and get even more free, ad infinitum-until we stop him. He buys with wages the right to use the only “thing” the worker has to sell, his or her ability to work. The specific social relation which is capital, then, is the wage relation. And this wage relation can exist only when the ability to work becomes a saleable commodity. Marx calls this commodity labor power.

This is a strange commodity for it is not a thing The ability to labor resides only in a human being, whose life is consumed in the process of producing First it must be nine months in the womb must be fed, clothed and trained” then when it works its bed must be made, its floor is swept its lunchbox prepared it’s sexuality not gratified but quietened its dinner ready when it gets home even if this is eight in the morning from the night shift This is how labor power is produced and reproduced when it is daily consumed in the factory or the office. To describe its basic’ production and reproduction is to describe women ‘s Work.

The community therefore is not an area of freedom and leisure auxiliary to the factory where by chance there happen to be women who are degraded as the personal servants of men The community is the other half of capitalist organization the other area of hidden capitalist exploitation the other hidden source of surplus labor.6 It becomes increasingly regimented like a factory what Mariarosa calls a social factory where the costs and nature of transport, housing, medical care, education, police, are all points of struggle! And this social factory has as its pivot the woman in the home producing labor power as a commodity, and her struggle not to.

The demands of the women’s movement, then, take on a new and more subversive significance, When we say, for example, that we want control of our own bodies, we are challenging the domination of capital which has transformed our reproductive organs as much as our arms and legs into instruments of accumulation of surplus labor; transformed our relations with men, with our children and our very creation of them, into work productive to this accumulation.

* * * *

The second document, “A Woman’s Place”, originally published as a pamphlet, Comes from the United States. It was written in 1952 at the height of the cold war, in Los Angeles, where the immigration of young working men and women had assumed Biblical dimensions 8. Though it bears my name, I was merely a vehicle for expressing what women, housewives and factory workers, felt and knew as immigrants to the Golden West from the South and Fast.

It was already clear even then that working outside the home did not make drudgery at home any more appealing, nor liberate us from the responsibility for housework when it was shared. It was equally clear that to think of spending our lives packing chocolates, or winding transformers, or wiring televisions was more than we could bear. We rejected both and fought against both. For example, in those days a man’s friends would still laugh if they saw him wearing an apron and washing up. We changed that.

There is no doubt that the courage to fight for these changes sprang directly from that pay check which we so hated to work for. But though we hated the work, for most of us it provided the first opportunity for an independent social experience outside the isolation of the home, and seemed the only alternative to that isolation. After the mass entry of women into industry during the second world war, and our brutal expulsion between 1945 and 1947, from 1947 when they wanted us again we came back and, with the Korean war (1949), in increasing numbers. For all the reasons out-lined in the pamphlet, we wanted money and saw no alternative to demanding jobs.

That we were immigrants from industrial, farming or coal-mining areas made us more dependent on that pay check, since we had only ourselves to on. But it gave us an advantage too. In the new aircraft and electronics industries of L.A., in addition to the standard jobs for women, for example in food and clothing, we – more white women than Black, who were in those days largely denied jobs with higher (subsistence) pay – we managed to achieve new freedom of action. We were unrestrained by fathers and mothers who stayed “back East” or “down South”. Trade unions, formed in the Last years before by bitter struggle, by the time they were imported West were negotiators for a 10-cents-a-year rise, and were part of the disciplinary apparatus which confronted us on the assembly line and which we paid for in high dues taken out before we ever saw our money. Other traditional forms of “political” organization were either non-existent or irrelevant and most of us ignored them. In short, we made a clean break with the past.

In the women’s movement of the late sixties, the energy of those who refused the old forms of protection or who never knew them, finally found massive articulation Yet 20 years before in the baldness of our confrontation with capital (directly and via men) we were making our way through what has become increasingly an international experience This experience taught us’ the second job outside of the home is another boss superimposed on the first ~ woman’s first job is to reproduce other peoples labor power and her second is to reproduce and sell her own. So that her struggle in the Family and in the factory, the joint organizers of her labor, of her husband’s labor and of the future labor of her children, is one whole. The very unity in one person of the two divided aspects of capitalist production presupposes not only a new scope of struggle but an entirely new evaluation of the weight and cruciality of women in that struggle.

These are the themes of the Dalla Costa article. What was posed by the struggle of so-called “reactionary” or “backward” or at best “non-political” housewives and factory wives in the United States 20 years ago is taken by a woman in Italy and used as a starting point for a restatement of Marxist theory and a reorientation of struggle. This theoretical development parallels and expresses and is needed for an entirely new level of struggle which women internationally are in the process of waging.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

* * *

It is no accident that the Dalla Costa article has come from Italy. First of all, because so few women in Italy have jobs outside the home, the housewife’s position seems frozen, and she derives little power from neighbors working out of the home. In this respect her situation is closer to the Los Angeles woman of “A Woman’s Place” than to that same woman today. So that it is impossible to have a feminist movement in Italy which does not base itself on women in the home.

At the same time, the fact that today millions of women elsewhere go out to work and are engaged there in a struggle with new objectives throws her situation into stark relief and poses possibilities which the Los Angeles woman 20 years ago could not envisage: the housewife in Italy anywhere can seek an alternative to the direct exploitation of the factory and office in order to get out of the home. By herself in the Catholic Italian ghetto, she seems trapped unless she demands that jobs be created for her. As part of an international struggle, she can begin to refuse, as other women are refusing, to pass from capitalist underdevelopment through capitalist development in order to make a struggle for her liberation. Women with pay packets in the industrial as well as the Third World, by refusing to be wives to the house or wives to the factory, are posing a new alternative for themselves and for her.

Mariarosa says: “Capital itself is seizing upon the same impetus which created a movement – the rejection by millions of women of women traditional place – to recompose the work force with increasing numbers of women. The movement can only develop in opposition to this…This ultimately is the dividing line between reformism and revolutionary politics within the women’s movement.”

Up to now a woman who needed to break her isolation and find autonomy could find these only in an alternative within capitalist planning. The struggle of women today is posing as the only alternative the struggle itself and through it the destruction of the capitalist plan. In England the motive force of this struggle is the Unsupported Mother’s fight for a guaranteed income; in the United States, the Welfare Mother’s demand for a living wage and her refusal of the jobs organized by the State. The response of the State in both countries shows how dangerous it considers this new basis of struggle to be, how dangerous it is for women to leave their homes, not for another job, but for a picket line, a meeting or to break the windows of the SS or Welfare Office.

Through an international movement “which is by its nature a struggle”, the power from the female pay packet is put at the disposal of the wageless woman, so that the wageless woman can recognise and utilize her own power, hidden up to now. The second reason that this orientation finds expression in Italy is that on another level the working class there has a unique history of struggle. It has behind it factory takeovers in the early ’20s, the defeat by capitalism in its fascist version, and then an armed underground resistance against it. (1 hope by now there is no need to add that this was a movement of men and women, though it is worth noting that we cannot imagine what the outcome would have been if women had played not only a bigger role but a different role in, for example, the factory takeovers.) In the postwar years were added to its ranks workers from Southern Italy who, emigrating from an area of underdevelopment, were new to and rebellious against the discipline of wage labor. By 1969, this working class by its struggle was able to orient to itself a massive student movement and create an extra-parliamentary left which, reflecting this history, is unique in Europe.

This extra-parliamentary left has not integrated women into its political perspective as an autonomous force, and is dominated by a male arrogance which Catholicism has promoted. But they concentrate on the class as they conceive of it, despite jargon they have broken from the dominant European leftist ideology which was eurocentric and intellectual, and above all, they advance and engage in direct offensive action.

One of the dominant premises of European ideology from which the Italian left has broken is that the working class in the United States-and not only the female of the species-is “backward”. In the eyes of the European left, the Black movement was an exotic historical accident external to the class, and the standard of living of the most powerful layers of the class was a gift of capital, not the fruit of bitter and violent struggle. What was not European, even when it was white, was not quite “civilised’. This racism predates the slave trade, and has fed off the conquests of imperial states since 1492.

It is against this background that Mariarosa Dalla Costa chose “A Woman’s Place” to be published in Italy along with her own essay, as an expression of the day-to-day revolutionary struggle 20 years ago of those who have been sneered at by European and American left intellectuals alike. Dalla Costa sees in the class struggle in the United States the most powerful expression of the class internationally; sees the class as international: it is clear that both the industrial and the Third worlds are integral to her view of the struggle. Here then we have the beginnings of a new analysis of who is the working class. It has been assumed to be only the waged worker. Dalla Costa disagrees. The social relation of the waged to the unwaged-thefatnily~i5 integral to the social relation which is capital itself – the wage relation. If these two are integral to the structure of capital, then the struggle against one is interdependent with the struggle against the other.

An analysis of class based on the structure of exploitation and the stage of the antagonism within this structure, c~ evaluate women’s day-to-day struggle as it continues to develop by its causes and its effects, rather than by somebody else’s idea of what our “political consciousness” should be.

In the UK and the US (and probably in other Western countries) the women’s movement has had to repudiate the refusal of the white left to see any other area of struggle than the factory in the metropolis.

In Italy, the women’s movement, while it works out its own autonomous mode of existence against the left and the student movement, is clashing on a ground which, apparently, these latter had covered: how to organize the struggle at the Community level.

What they proposed for the struggle in the community, it turns out, was just an extension, a mechanical projection of the factory struggle: the male worker continued to be the central protagonist, Mariarosa Dalla Costa considers the community as first and foremost the home, and considers therefore the woman as the central figure of subversion in the community. Seen in this way, women are the contradiction in all previous political frameworks, which had been based on the male worker in industry.10 Once we see the community as a productive center and thus a center of subversion, the whole perspective for fell generalized struggle and revolutionary organization is re-opened.

The kinds of action and organization which, with the heritage of working class struggle in Italy, can grow from a movement of class and caste, this time finally of women, in the heartland of the Catholic church, is bound to widen the possibilities of our own struggle in whatever country our international movement happens to be.

Power to the sisters and therefore to the class.

Selma James, Padova, 27 July, 1972

NOTES

1 “…Wakefield discovered that in the Colonies property in money means of subsistence, machines and other means of production does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the correlative the wage worker the other man who is compelled to sell himself of his own freewill He discovered that capital is not a thing but a social relation between persons established by the instrumentality of things. Mr Peel he moans, took with him from England to Swan River West Australia means of subsistence and of production to the amount of £50,000. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 3,000 persons of the working class, men, women and children. Once arrived at his destination, ‘Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river.’ Unhappy Mr. Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River!” Capital, Vol.1, K. Marx, p.766, Moscow 1958. (Our emphasis.)

2 The Financial Times of Match 9, 1971, suggests that many capitalists are missing the opportunity to “use” women in positions of middle management; being “grateful outsiders”, women would not only lower the pay structure, “at least in the first instance”, but be a source of renewed energy and vitality” with which to manage the rest of us,

3 If this seems an extreme statement, look at the demands we in England marched for in 1971: equal pay, free 24-hour child care, equal educational opportunity and tree birth control and abortion on demand. Incorporated into a wider struggle, some of these are vital. As they stand, they accept that we not have the children we can’t afford; they demand of the State facilities to keep the children we can afford for as long as 24 hours a day; and they demand that these children have equal chance to be Conditioned and trained to sell themselves Competitively with each other on the labor market for equal pay. By themselves these are not just co-optable demands. They are capitalist planning. Most of us in the movement never felt these demands expressed where we wanted the movement to go, but in the absence of an independent feminist political framework, we lost by default. The prune architects of these demands were women with a “class analysis”.

4 Psychology itself by its nature is a prime weapon of manipulation, i.e. social control, of men, women and children. It does not acquire another nature when wielded by women in a movement for liberation, quite the reverse. To the degree that we permit, it manipulates the movement and changes the nature of that to suit its needs. And not only psychology, “Women’s liberation needs: -to destroy sociology as the ideollogy of the social services which bases itself on the proposition that this society is ‘the norm’; if you are a person in rebellion, you are a deviant. -to destroy psychology and psychiaatry which spend their time convincing us that our ‘problems’ are personal hang-ups and that we must adjust to a lunatic world. These so-called ‘disciplines’ and ‘sciences’ will increasingly incorporate our demands in order more efficiently to redirect our forces into safe channels under their stewardship, Unless we deal ‘with them, they will deal with us. -to discredit once and for all soccial workers, progressive educators, marriage guidance counsellors, and the whole army of experts whose function is to keep men, women and children functioning within the social framework, each by their own special brand of social frontal lobotomy.” (“The American Family.’ Decay and Rebirth”, Selma James, reprinted in From Feminism to Liberation, collected by Edith Hoshino Altback, Schenkman, Cambridge, Mass., 1971, pp.197-8.)

5 Marx himself does not seem to have said anywhere that it was, Why this is so requires more space than is available here and more reading of the man at the expense of his interpreters, Suffice it to say that, first, he is singular in seeing consumption as a phase of production: “It is the production and reproduction of that means of production so indispensable to the capitalist; the laborer himself,” (Capital, Vol.1, Moscow, 1958, p.572.) Second, he alone has given us the tools to make our own analysis, And finally, he never was guilty of the nonsense with which Engels, despite his many contributions, has saddled us and which, from the Bolsheviks to Castro, has given a “Marxist” authority to backward and often reactionary policies towards women of revolutionary governments,

6 I said earlier that Dalla Costa moves into the question of why women are degraded “in a depth as far as I know not reached before”. Three previous attempts stand out (and can all be found in From Feminism to Liberation, previously cited.) “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation” by Margaret Benston attempts to answer the same question It fails in my view because it bases itself not on Marx but on Ernest Mandel. Even the few paragraphs of Mandel which Benston quotes are enough to expose the theoretical basis of modern Trotskyist liberalism What we must restrict ourselves to here is what he says about women’s work in the home, which Benston accepts. “The second group of products in capitalist society which are not commodities but remain simple use value consists of all things produced in the home. Despite the fact that considerable human labour goes into this type of household production, it still remains a production of use values and not of commodities. Every time a soup is made or a button sewn on a garment it constitutes production, but it is not production for the market (Quoted from An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory, Merit, N.Y., 1967, pp. 10-11. Even the title betrays the falsity of the content: there is no such thing as Marxist economic theory or Marxist political economy” or for that matter “Marxist sociology”. Marx negated political economy in theory and the working class negates it in practice For economics fragments the qualitative relations between people into a Compartmentalized and quantified relation between things When, as under capitalism our labor power becomes a commodity, we become factors in production, objects, sexual and in every way, which the economists, the sociologists and the rest of the vampires of capitalist science then examine plan for and try to control). Juliet Mitchell (Women The Longest Revolution ) also believes that although women “are fundamental to the human condition yet in their economic, social and politic ii roles they are marginal (P 93 ) The error of her method, in my view, is that once again an interpreter of Marx this time Althusser, is her guide Here separation of economic social and political roles is conscious policy Labor power is a commodity produced by women in the home It is this commodity which turns wealth into capital The buying and selling of this commodity turns the market into a capitalist market Women are not margin al in the home, in the factory in the hospital m the office We are fundamental to the reproduction of capital and fundamental to its destruction Peggy Morton of Toronto in a splendid article “A Woman’s Work Is Never Done”, points out that the family is the “unit whose function is the maintenance of and reproduction of labor power i e…the structure of the family is determined by the needs of the economic system at any given time, for a certain kind of labor power…”(P.214.) Benston calls, after Engels, for the capitalist industrialization of household jobs as “preconditions” for “true equality in job opportunity and the industrialization of housework is unlikely unless women are leaving the home for jobs ” (P 207 ) That is, if we get jobs capital will industrialize the areas where, according to her, we only produce use-values and not capital; this wins us the right to be exploited equally with men. With victories like that, we don’t need defeats. On the other hand, Morton is not looking for what concessions we can wring from the enemy but how to destroy him. “All too often we forget why we are Organizing women; the purpose of building a mass movement is not to build a mass movement, but to make revolution.” Benston, she says, “does not provide any basis on which strategy for a women’s movement can he based.” The absence of this motive for analysis in the movement generally encourages a real liberalism among us. ” (P.212.) Right on.

7 For those who believe the struggle in the social factory is not political, let them note that here, more than in the factory, is the State directly the Organizer of the life of the worker, especially if she is a woman, and so here the worker confronts the State more directly, without the intervention of individual capitalists and the mediation of trade unions.

8 Southern California had been invaded by a huge wave of immigration during the war. Between 1940-46, the population of San Diego had increased by 61%, that of L.A. by 29%. (Business Week, 20 Dec., 1947, p.72.)

9 It is literally clashing. As I write, the Italian women’s movement is replying to the attacks by some men of the left which began with a physical confrontation in Rome this month, when a section of the feminist movement, Lotta Femminista, held an international seminar at the university on women’s employment and naturally excluded men. The men said we were “racist” and “fascist” and broke up the seminar. We exchanged blow for blow and were not defeated. In fact our violent response to their violence drew us closer together.

10 Even when he is unemployed. At a recent Claimants Union conference members of one of the left groups were given the following instructions circulated in one of the group’s internal documents. “[Our] work in a C.U. should be to orientate the C.U. away from the unsupported mother, sick, old, etc., towards unemployed workers.” When some women in the Claimants Union discovered the document and reproduced it for the benefit of the conference, there was uproar. Such contempt for those sections of the class who are less powerful has terrifying implications. If the male worker is the only subject of a political framework, then once women assert their central role in the struggle, that traditional political framework must be shattered.

11 Not only for Claimants Unions is this an urgent and practical question (see footnote 10). The armed branch of the Irish movement has been male enough in its relations with women and children to be satisfied with containing their Participation in the struggle. If the fruit is bitter the women will be blamed.

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Women and the Subversion of the Community

These observations are an attempt to define and analyze the “Woman Question”, and to locate this question in the entire “female role” as it has been created by the capitalist division of labor. We place foremost in these pages the housewife as the central figure in this female role. We assume that all women are housewives and even those who work outside the home continue to be housewives. That is, on a world level, it is precisely what is particular to domestic work, not only measured as number of hours and nature of work, but as quality of life and quality of relationships which it generates, that determines a woman’s place wherever she is and to whichever class she belongs. We concentrate here on the position of the working class woman, but this is not to imply that only working class women are exploited. Rather it is to confirm that the role of the working class housewife, which we believe has been indispensable to capitalist production, is the determinant for the position of all other women. Every analysis of women as a caste, then, must proceed from the analysis of the position of working class housewives.

In order to see the housewife as central, it was first of all necessary to analyze briefly how capitalism has created the modern family and the housewife’s role in it, by destroying the types of family group or community which previously existed.

This process is by no means complete. While we are speaking of the Western world and Italy in particular, we wish to make clear that to the extent that the capitalist mode of production also brings the Third World under its command, the same process of destruction must and is taking place there. Nor should we take for granted that the family as we know it today in the most technically advanced Western countries is the final form the family can assume under capitalism. But the analysis of new tendencies can only be the product of an analysis of how capitalism created this family and what woman’s role is today, each as a moment in a process. We propose to complete these observations on the female role by analyzing as well the position of the woman who works outside the home, but this is for a later date. We wish merely to indicate here the link between two apparently separate experiences: that of housewife and that of working woman. The day-to-day struggles that women have developed since the second world war run directly against the organization of the factory and of the home. The “unreliability” of women in the home and out of it has grown rapidly since then, and runs directly against the factory as regimentation organized in time and space, and against the social factory as organization of the reproduction of labor power. This trend to more absenteeism, to less respect for timetables, to higher job mobility, is shared by young men and women workers. But where the man for crucial periods of his youth will be the sole support of a new family, women who on the whole are not restrained in this way and who must always consider the job at home, are bound to be even more disengaged from work discipline, forcing disruption of the productive flow and therefore higher costs to capital. (This is one excuse for the discriminatory wages which many times over make up for capital’s loss.) It is this same trend of disengagement that groups of housewives express when they leave their children with their husbands at work.1 This trend is and will increasingly be one of the decisive forms of the crisis in the systems of the factory and of the social factory.

* * * *

In recent years, especially in the advanced capitalist countries, there have developed a number of women’s movements of different orientations and range, from those which believe the. Fundamental conflict in society is between men and women to those focusing on the position of women as a specific manifestation of class exploitation. If at first sight the position and attitudes of the former are perplexing, especially to women who have had previous experience of militant participation in political struggles, it is, we think, worth pointing out that women for whom sexual exploitation is the basic social contradiction provide an extremely important index of the degree of our own frustration, experienced by millions of women both inside and outside the movement. There are those who define their own lesbianism in these terms (we refer to views expressed by a section of the movement in the US in particular): “Our associations with women began when, because we were together, we could acknowledge that we could no longer tolerate relationships with men, that we could not prevent these from becoming power relationships in which we were inevitably subjected. Our attentions and energies were diverted, our power was diffused and its objectives delimited.” From this rejection has developed a movement of gay women which asserts the possibilities of a relationship free of a sexual power struggle, free of the biological social unit, and asserts at the same time our need to open ourselves to a wider social and therefore sexual potential. Now in order to understand the frustrations of women expressing themselves in ever-increasing forms, we must be clear what in the nature of the family under capitalism precipitates a crisis on this scale. The oppression of women, after all, did not begin with capitalism. What began with capitalism was the more intense exploitation of women as women and the possibility at last of their liberation. The origins of the capitalist family In pre-capitalist patriarchal society the home and the family were central to agricultural and artisan production. With the advent of capitalism the socialization of production was organized with the factory as its center. Those who worked in the new productive center, the factory, received a wage. Those who were excluded did not. Women, children and the aged lost the relative power that derived from the family’s dependence on their labor, which was seen to be social and necessary. Capital, destroying the family and the community and production as one whole, on the one hand has concentrated basic social production in the factory and the office, and on the other has in essence detached the man from the family and turned him into a wage laborer. It has put on the man’s shoulders the burden of financial responsibility for women, children, the old and the ill, in a word, all those who do not receive wages. From that moment began the expulsion from the home of all those who did not procreate and service those who worked for wages. The first to be excluded from the home, after men, were children; they sent children to school. The family ceased to be not only the productive, but also the educational center.2 To the extent that men had been the despotic heads of the patriarchal family, based on a strict division of labor, the experience of women, children and men was a contradictory experience which we inherit. But in pre-capitalist society the work of each member of the community of serfs was seen to be directed to a purpose: either to the prosperity of the feudal lord or to our survival. To this extent the whole community of serfs was compelled to be co-operative in a unity of unfreedom that involved to the same degree women, children and men, which capitalism had to break.3 In this sense the unfree individual, the democracy of unfreedom 4 entered into a crisis. The passage from serfdom to free labor power separated the male from the female proletarian and both of them from their children. The unfree patriarch was transformed into the “free” wage earner, and upon the contradictory experience of the sexes and the generations was built a more profound estrangement and therefore a more subversive relation. We must stress that this separation of children from adults is essential to an understanding of the full significance of the separation of women from men, to grasp fully how the organization of the struggle on the part of the women’s movement, even when it takes the form of a violent rejection of any possibility of relations with men, can only aim to overcome the separation which is based on the “freedom” of wage labor. The class struggle in education The analysis of the school which has emerged during recent years -particularly with the advent of the students’ movement”” has clearly identified the school as a center of ideological discipline and of the shaping of the labor force and its masters. What has perhaps never emerged, or at least not in its profundity, Is precisely what precedes all this; and that is the usual desperation of children on their first day of nursery school, when they see themselves dumped into a class and their parents suddenly desert them. But it is precisely at this point that the whole story of School begins.5 Seen in this way, the elementary school children are not (hose appendages who, merely by the demands “free lunches, ln’r lures, free books”, learnt from the older ones, can in some wuy be united with the students of the higher schools.6 In rlriiH.’ntary school children, in those who are the sons and tliiunhtcrs of workers, there is always an awareness that school is in some way setting them against their parents and their peers, liinl consequently there is an instinctive resistance to studying mid to being “educated”. This is the resistance for which Black (Inldren are confined to educationally subnormal schools in lii il.iin.7 The European working class child, like the Black working class child, sees in the teacher somebody who is teach-IIIH him or her something against her mother and father, not as (i defense of the child but as an attack on the class. Capitalism (> (lie first productive system where the children of the exploited are disciplined and educated in institutions organized mid controlled by the ruling class.8 I The final proof that this alien indoctrination which begins in nursery school is based on the splitting of the family is that those working class children who arrive (those few who do arrive) at university are so brainwashed that they are unable any longer to talk to their community.

Working class children then are the first who instinctively rebel against schools and the education provided in schools. But their parents carry them to schools and confine them to schools because they are concerned that their children should “have an education”, that is, be equipped to escape the assembly line or the kitchen to which they, the parents, are confined. If a working class child shows particular aptitudes, the whole family immediately concentrates on this child, gives him the best conditions, often sacrificing the others, hoping and gambling that he will carry them all out of the working class. This in effect becomes the way capital moves through the aspirations of the parents to enlist their help in disciplining fresh labor power. In Italy parents less and less succeed in sending their children to school. Children’s resistance to school is always increasing even when this resistance is not yet organized. At the same time that the resistance of children grows to being educated in schools, so does their refusal to accept the definition that capital has given of their age. Children want everything they see; they do not yet understand that in order to have things one must pay for them, and in order to pay for them one must have a wage, and therefore one must also be an adult. No wonder it is not easy to explain to children why they cannot have what television has told them they cannot live without. But something is happening among the new generation of children and youth which is making it steadily more difficult to explain to them the arbitrary point at which they reach adulthood. Rather the younger generation is demonstrating their age to us: in the sixties six-year-olds have already come up against police dogs in the South of the United States. Today we find the same phenomenon in Southern Italy and Northern Ireland, where children have been as active in the revolt as adults. When children (and women) are recognized as integral to history, no doubt other examples will come to light of very young people’s participation (and of women’s) in revolutionary struggles. What is new is the autonomy of their participation in spite of and because of their exclusion from direct production. In the factories youth refuse the leadership of older workers, and in the revolts in the cities they are the diamond point. In the metropolis generations of the nuclear family have produced youth and student movements that have initiated the process of shaking the framework of constituted power: in the Third World the unemployed youth rtl’u often in the streets before the working class organized in (rude unions. It is worth recording what The Times of London (1 June 1971) reported concerning a headteachers’ meeting called because one of them was admonished for hitting a pupil: “Disruptive and irresponsible elements lurk around every corner with the seemingly pl.inned intention of eroding all forces of authority.” This “is u plot to destroy the values on which our civilization is built and on which our schools are some of the finest bastions.” The exploitation of the wageless We wanted to make these few comments on the attitude of revolt that is steadily spreading among children and youth, especially from the working class and particularly Black people, because we believe this to be intimately connected with the explosion of the women’s movement and something which the Women’s movement itself must take into account. We are dealing with the revolt of those who have been excluded, who have been separated by the system of production, and who express in action their need to destroy the forces that stand in tin’ way of their social existence, but who this time are coming together as individuals. Women and children have been excluded. The revolt of the one against exploitation through exclusion is an index of the revolt of the other. To the extent to which capital has recruited the man and turned him into a wage laborer, it has created a fracture between him and all the other proletarians without a wage who, not participating directly in social production, were thus presumed incapable of being the subjects of social revolt.

Since Marx, it has been clear that capital rules and develops through the wage, that is, that the foundation of capitalist society was the wage laborer and his or her direct exploitation. What has been neither clear nor assumed by the organizations of the working class movement is that precisely through the wage has the exploitation of the non-wage laborer been organized. This exploitation has been even more effective because the lack of a wage hid it. That is, the wage commanded a larger amount of labor than appeared in factory bargaining. Where women are concerned, their labor appears to be a personal service outside of capital. The woman seemed only to be suffering from male chauvinism, being pushed around because capitalism meant general “injustice” and “bad and unreasonable behavior”; the few (men) who noticed convinced us that this was “oppression” but not exploitation. But “oppression” hid another and more pervasive aspect of capitalist society. Capital excluded children from the home and sent them to school not only because they are in the way of others’ more “productive” labor or only to indoctrinate them. The rule of capital through the wage compels every ablebodied person to function, under the law of division of labor, and to function in ways that are if not immediately, then ultimately profitable to the expansion and extension of the rule of capital. That, fundamentally, is the meaning of school. Where children are concerned, their labor appears to be learning for their own benefit. Proletarian children have been forced to undergo the same education in the schools: this is capitalist levelling against the infinite possibilities of learning. Woman on the other hand has been isolated in the home, forced to carry out work that is considered unskilled, the work of giving birth to, raising, disciplining, and servicing the worker for production. Her role in the cycle of social production remained invisible because only the product of her labor, the laborer, was visible there. She herself was thereby trapped within pre-capitalist working conditions and never paid a wage. And when we say “pre-capitalist working”conditions” we do not refer only to women who have to use brooms to sweep. Even the best equipped American kitchens do not reflect the present level of technological development; at most they reflect the technology of the 19th century. If you are not paid by the hour, within certain limits, nobody cares how long it takes you to do your work. I’ll is is not only a quantitative but a qualitative difference from other work, and it stems precisely from the kind of commodity that this work is destined to produce. Within the capitalist system generally, the productivity of labor doesn’t increase Unless there is a confrontation between capital and class: technological innovations and co-operation are at the same time moments of attack for the working class and moments of capitalistic response. But if this is true for the production of commodities generally, this has not been true for the production of that special kind of commodity, labor power. If technological innovation can lower the limit of necessary work, and if the working class struggle in industry can use that innovation for gaining free hours, the same cannot be said of housework; to the extent that she must in isolation procreate, raise and be responsible for children, a high mechanization of domestic chores doesn’t free any time for the woman. She is always on duty, for the machine doesn’t exist that makes and minds children.9 A higher productivity of domestic work through mechanization, then, can be related only to specific services, for example, cooking, washing, cleaning. Her workday is unending not because she has no machines, but because she is isolated.10

Confirming the myth of female incapacity

With the advent of the capitalist mode of production, then, women were relegated to a condition of isolation, enclosed within the family cell, dependent in every aspect on men. The new autonomy of the free wage slave was denied her, and she remained in a pre-capitalist stage of personal dependence, but this time more brutalized because in contrast to the large-scale highly socialized production which now prevails. Woman’s apparent incapacity to do certain things, to understand certain tilings, originated in her history, which is a history very similar in certain respects to that of “backward” children in specialist classes. To the extent that women were cut off from direct socialized production and isolated in the home, all possibilities of social life outside the neighborhood were denied them, and hence they were deprived of social knowledge and social education. When women are deprived of wide experience of organizing and planning collectively industrial and other mass struggles, they are denied a basic source of education, the experience of social revolt. And this experience is primarily the experience of learning your own capacities, that is, your power, and the capacities, the power, of your class. Thus the isolation from which women have suffered has confirmed to society and to themselves the myth of female incapacity. It is this myth which has hidden, firstly, that to the degree that the working class has been able to organize mass struggles in the community, rent strikes, struggles against inflation generally, the basis has always been the unceasing informal organization of women there; secondly, that in struggles in the cycle of direct production women’s support and organization, formal and informal, has been decisive. At critical moments this unceasing network of women surfaces and develops through the talents, energies and strength of the “incapable female”. But the myth does not die. Where women could together with men claim the victory-to survive (during unemployment) or to survive and win (during strikes)- the spoils of the victor belonged to the class “in general”. Women rarely if ever got anything specifically for themselves; rarely if ever did the struggle have as an objective in any way altering the power structure of the home and its relation to the factory. Strike or unemployment, a woman’s work is never done. The capitalist function of the uterus Never as with the advent of capitalism has the destruction of woman as a person meant also the immediate diminution of her physical integrity. Feminine and masculine sexuality had already before capitalism undergone a series of regimes and forms of conditioning. But they had also undergone efficient methods of birth control, which have unaccountably disappeared. Capital established the family as the nuclear family and subordinated within it the woman to the man, as the person who, not directly participating in social production, does not present herself independently on the labor market. As it cuts off all her possibilities of creativity and of the development of her working activity, so it cuts off the expression of her sexual, psychological lid emotional autonomy. We repeat: never had such a stunting of the physical integrity woman taken place, affecting everything from the brain to the uterus. Participating with others in the production of a train, a mi or an airplane is not the same thing as using in isolation the same broom in the same few square feet of kitchen for centuries. This is not a call for equality of men and women in the construction of airplanes, but it is merely to assume that the difference between the two histories not only determines the differences in the actual forms of struggle but brings also finally to light what has been invisible for so long: the different forms women’s struggles have assumed in the past. In the same way as women are robbed of the possibility of developing their creative capacity, they are robbed of their sexual life which has been transformed into a function for reproducing labor power: the same observations which we made on the technological level of domestic services apply to birth control (and, by the way, to the whole field of gynaecology), research into which until recently has been continually neglected, while women have been forced to have children and were forbidden the right to have abortions when, as was to be expected, the most primitive techniques of birth control failed. From this complete diminution of woman, capital constructed the female role, and has made the man in the family the instrument of this reduction. The man as wage worker and head of the family was the specific instrument of this specific exploitation which is the exploitation of women. The homosexuality of the division of labour

In this sense we can explain to what extent the degraded relationships between men and women are determined by the fracturing that society has imposed between man and woman, subordinating woman as object, the “complement” to man. And in this sense we can see the validity of the explosion of tendencies within the women’s movement in which women want to conduct their struggle against men as such11 and no longer wish to use their strength to sustain even sexual relationships with them, since each of these relationships is always frustrating. A power relation precludes any possibility of affection and intimacy. Yet between men and women power as its right commands sexual affection and intimacy. In this sense, the gay movement is the most massive attempt to disengage sexuality and power. But homosexuality generally is at the same time rooted in the framework of capitalist society itself: women at home and men in factories and offices, separated one from the other for the whole day; or a typical factory of 1,000 women with 10 foremen; or a typing pool (of women, of course) which works for 50 professional men. All these situations are already a homosexual framework of living. Capital, while it elevates heterosexuality to a religion, at the same time in practice makes it impossible for men and women to be in touch with each other, physically or emotionally-it undermines heterosexuality except as a sexual, economic and social discipline. We believe that this is a reality from which we must begin. The explosion of the gay tendencies have been and are important for the movement precisely because they pose the urgency to claim for itself the specificity of women’s struggle and above all to clarify in all their depths all facets and connections of the exploitation of women. Surplus value and the social factory At this point then we would like to begin to clear the ground of a certain point of view which orthodox Marxism, especially in the ideology and practice of so-called Marxist parties, has always taken for granted. And this is: when women remain outside social production, that is, outside the socially organized productive cycle, they are also outside social productivity. The role of women, in other words, has always been seen as that of a psychologically subordinated person who, except where she is marginally employed outside the home, is outside production; essentially a supplier of a series of use values in the home. This basically was the viewpoint of Marx who, observing what happened to women working in the factories, concluded that it might have been better for them to be at home, where resided a morally higher form of life. But the true nature of the role of housewife never emerges clearly in Marx. Yet observers have noted that Lancashire women, cotton workers for over a century, are more sexually free and helped by men in domestic chores. On the other hand, in the Yorkshire coal mining districts where s low percentage of women worked outside the home, women are more dominated by the figure of the husband. Even those who have been able to define the exploitation of women in socialised production could not then go on to understand the exploited position of women in the home; men are too compromised in their relationship with women. For that reason only women can define themselves and move on the woman question. We have to make clear that, within the wage, domestic work produces not merely use values, but is essential to the production of surplus value. This is true of the entire female role as a personality which is subordinated at all levels, physical, psychical and occupational, which has had and continues to have a precise and vital place in the capitalist division of labor, in pursuit of productivity at the social level. Let us examine more specifically the role of women as a source of social productivity, that is, of surplus value making. Firstly within the family.

A. THE PRODUCTIVITY OF WAGE SLAVERY BASED ON UNWAGED SLAVERY

It is often asserted that, within the definition of wage labor, women in domestic labor are not productive. In fact precisely the opposite is true if one thinks of the enormous quantity of social services which capitalist organization transforms into privatized activity, putting them on the backs of housewives. Domestic labor In not essentially “feminine work”; a woman doesn’t fulfill herself more or get less exhausted than a man from washing and cleaning. These are social services inasmuch as they serve the reproduction (if labor power. And capital, precisely by instituting its family

structure, has “liberated” the man from these functions so that he is completely “free” for direct exploitation; so that he is free to “earn” enough for a woman to reproduce him as labor power.13 It has made men wage slaves, then, to the degree that it has succeeded in allocating these services to women in the family, and by the same process controlled the flow of women onto the labor market. In Italy women are still necessary in the home and capital still needs this form of the family. At the present level of development in Europe generally, in Italy in particular, capital still prefers to import its labor power-in the form of millions of men from underdeveloped areas-while at the same time consigning women to the home.14 And women are of service not only because they carry out domestic labor without a wage and without going on strike, but also because they always receive back into the home all those who are periodically expelled from their jobs by economic crisis. The family, this maternal cradle always ready to help and protect in time of need, has been in fact the best guarantee that the unemployed do not immediately become a horde of disruptive outsiders. The organized parties of the working class movement have been careful not to raise the question of domestic work. Aside from the fact that they have always treated women as a lower form of life, even in factories, to raise this question would be to challenge the whole basis of the trade unions as organizations that deal (a) only with the factory; (b) only with a measured and “paid” work day; (c) only with that side of wages which is given to us and not with the side of wages which is taken back, that is, inflation. Women have always been forced by the working class parties to put off their liberation to some hypothetical future, making it dependent on the gains that men, limited in the scope of their struggles by these parties, win for “themselves”. In reality, every phase of working class struggle has fixed the subordination and exploitation of women at a higher level. The proposal of pensions for housewives and this makes us wonder why not a wage) serves only to show the complete willingness of these parties further to institutionalize women as housewives and men (and women) as wage slaves.

Now it is clear that not one of us believes that emancipation, liberation, can be achieved through work. Work is still work, whether inside or outside the home. The independence of the Wage earner means only being a “free individual” for capital, no less for women than for men. Those who advocate that the (liberation of the-working class woman lies in her getting a job outside the home are part of the problem, not the solution. Slavery to an assembly line is not a liberation from slavery to a kitchen sink. To deny this is also to deny the slavery of the assembly line itself, proving again that if you don’t know how women are exploited, you can never really know how men are. But this question is so crucial that we deal with it separately. What we wish to make clear here is that by the non-payment of a wage when we are producing in a world capitalistically organized, llu- figure of the boss is concealed behind that of the husband. He appears to be the sole recipient of domestic services, and this gives an ambiguous and slavelike character to housework. The husband and children, through their loving involvement, their loving blackmail, become the first foremen, the immediate controllers of this labor. The husband tends to read the paper and wait for his dinner to be cooked and served, even when his wife goes out to work as he does and comes home with him. Clearly, the specific form of exploitation represented by domestic work demands a correspondingly specific form of struggle, namely the women’s struggle, within the family. II we fail to grasp completely that precisely this family is the very pillar of the capitalist organization of work, if we make the mistake of regarding it only as a superstructure, dependent for fli.mge only on the stages of the struggle in the factories, then we will be moving in a limping revolution that will always perpetuate and aggravate a basic contradiction in the class struggle, and a Contradiction which is functional to capitalist development. We would, in other words, be perpetuating the error of considering ourselves as producers of use values only, of considering housewives external to the working class. As long as housewives are considered external to the class, the class struggle at every moment and any point is impeded, frustrated, and unable to find full scope for its action. To elaborate this further is not our task here. To expose and condemn domestic work as a masked form of productive labor, however, raises a series of questions concerning both the aims and the forms of struggle of women. Socializing the struggle of the isolated laborer In fact, the demand that would follow, namely “pay us wages for housework”, would run the risk of looking, in the light of the present relationship of forces in Italy, as though we wanted further to entrench the condition of institutionalized slavery which is produced with the condition of housework””therefore such a demand could scarcely operate in practice as a mobilizing goal.16 The question is, therefore, to develop forms of struggle which do not leave the housewife peacefully at home, at most ready to take part in occasional demonstrations through the streets, waiting for a wage that would never pay for anything; rather we must discover forms of struggle which immediately break the whole structure of domestic work, rejecting it absolutely, rejecting our role as housewives and the home as the ghetto of our existence, since [he problem is not only to stop doing this work, but to smash the entire role of housewife. The starting point is not how to do housework more efficiently, but how to find a place as protagonist in the struggle, that is, not a higher productivity of domestic labor but a higher subversiveness in the struggle. To immediately overthrow the relation between time-given-to-housework and time-not-given-to-housework: it is not necessary to spend time each day ironing sheets and curtains, cleaning the floor until it sparkles nor to dust every day. And yet many women still do that. Obviously it is not because they are stupid: once again we are reminded of the parallel we made earlier with the ESN school. In reality, it is only in this work that they can realize an identity precisely because, as we said before, capital has cut them off from the process of socially organized production. But it does not automatically follow that to be cut off from socialized production is to be cut off from socialized struggle: struggle, however, demands time away from housework, and at the same time it offers an alternative identity to the woman who before found it only at the level of the domestic ghetto.

In the sociality of struggle women discover and exercise a power that effectively gives them a new identity. The new identity is and can only be a new degree of social power. The possibility of social struggle arises out of the socially productive character of women’s work in the home. It is not only or mainly the social services provided in the home that make women’s role socially productive, even though in fact at this moment these services are identified with women’s role. But capital can technologically improve the conditions of this work. Whilst capital does not want to do for the time being, in Italy at least, is to destroy the position of the housewife as the pivot of the nuclear family. For this reason there is no point in our waiting for the automation of domestic work, because this will never happen: the maintenance of the nuclear family is in compatible with the automation of these services. To really automate them, capital would have to destroy the family as we know it; that is, it would be driven to socialize in order to automate fully. Hut we know all too well what their socialization means: it is always at the very least the opposite of the Paris Commune! The new leap that capitalist reorganization could make and that we can already smell in the U.S. and in the more advanced capitalist countries generally is to destroy the pre-capitalist relation of production in the home by constructing a family winch more nearly reflects capitalist equality and its domination through co-operative labor; to transcend “the incompleteness of capitalist development” in the home, with the pre-capitalist, Unfree woman as its pivot, and make the family more nearly reflect in its form its capitalist productive function, the reproduction of labor power. To return then to what we said above: women, housewives, identifying themselves with the home, tend to a compulsive perfection in their work. We all know the saying too well: you can always find work to do in a house.

They don’t see beyond their own four walls. The housewife’s situation as a pre-capitalist mode of labor and consequently this “femininity” imposed upon her, makes her see the world, the others and the entire organization of work as a something which is obscure, essentially unknown and unknowable; not lived; perceived only as a shadow behind the shoulders of the husband who goes out each day and meets this something. So when we say that women must overthrow the relation of domestic-work-time to non-domestic-time and must begin to move out of the home, we mean their point of departure must be precisely this willingness to destroy the role of housewife, in order to begin to come together with other women, not only as neighbors and friends but as workmates and anti-workmates; thus breaking the tradition of privatized female, with all its rivalry, and reconstructing a real solidarity among women: not solidarity for defense but solidarity for attack, for the organization of the struggle. A common solidarity against a common form of labor. In the same way, women must stop meeting their husbands and children only as wife and mother, that is, at mealtime after they have come home from the outside world. Every place of struggle outside the home, precisely because every sphere of capitalist organization presupposes the home, offers a chance for attack by women; factory meetings, neighborhood meetings, student assemblies, each of them are legitimate places for women’s struggle, where women can encounter and confront men””women versus men, if you like, but as individuals, rather than mother-father, son-daughter, with all the possibilities this offers to explode outside of the house the contradictions, the frustrations, that capital has wanted to implode within the family. A new compass for class struggle If women demand in workers’ assemblies that the night-shift be abolished because at night, besides sleeping, one wants to make love-and it’s not the same as making love during the day if the women work during the day – that would be advancing their own independent interests as women against the social organization of work, refusing to be unsatisfied mothers for their husbands and children.

But in this new intervention and confrontation women are also expressing that their interests as women are not, as they have been told, separate and alien from the interests of the class. F or too long political parties, especially of the left, and trade unions have determined and confined the areas of working class struggle. To make love and to refuse night work to make love, is in the interest of the class. To explore why it is women and not men who raise the question is to shed new light on the whole history of the class. To meet your sons and daughters at a student assembly is to discover them as individuals who speak among other individuals; it is too present yourself to them as an individual. Many women have had abortions and very many have given birth. We can’t see why they should not express their point of view as women first, whether or not they are students, in an assembly of medical students. (We do not give the medical faculty as an example by accident. In the lecture hall and in the clinic, we can see once more the exploitation of the working class not only when third class patients exclusively are made the guinea pigs for research. Women especially are the prime objects of experimentation and also of the sexual contempt, sadism, and professional arrogance of doctors.) To sum up: the most important thing becomes precisely this explosion of the women’s movement as an expression of the specificity of female interests hitherto castrated from all its connections by the capitalist organization of the family. This has to be waged in every quarter of this society, each of which is founded precisely on the suppression of such interests, since the entire class exploitation has been built upon the specific mediation of women’s exploitation. And so as a women’s movement we must pinpoint every single area in which this exploitation is located, that is, we must regain the whole specificity of the female interest in the course of waging the struggle.

Every opportunity is a good one: housewives of families threatened with eviction can object that their housework has more than covered the rent of the months they didn’t pay. On the out-skirts of Milan, many families have already taken up this form of struggle. Electric appliances in the home are lovely things to have, but for the workers who make them, to make many is to spend time and to exhaust yourself. That every wage has to buy all of them is tough, and presumes that every wife must run all these appliances alone; and this only means that she is frozen in the home, but now on a more mechanized level. Lucky worker, lucky wife! The question is not to have communal canteens. We must remember that capital makes Fiat for the workers first, then their canteen. For this reason to demand a communal canteen in the neighborhood without integrating this demand into a practice of struggle against the organization of labor, against labor time, risks giving the impetus for a new leap that, on the community level, would regiment none other than women in some alluring work so that we will then have the possibility at lunchtime of eating shit collectively in the canteen. We want them to know that this is not the canteen we want, nor do we want play centers or nurseries of the same order. We want canteens too, and nurseries and washing machines and dishwashers, but we also want choices: to eat in privacy with few people when we want, to have time to be with children, to be with old people, with the sick, when and where we choose. To “have time” means to work less. To have time to be with children, the old and the sick does not mean running to pay a quick visit to the garages where you park children or old people or invalids. It means that we, the first to be excluded, are taking the initiative in this struggle so that all those other excluded people, the children, the old and the ill, can re-appropriate the social wealth; to be re-integrated with us and all of us with men, not as dependents but autonomously, as we women want for ourselves; since their exclusion, like ours, from the directly productive social process, from social existence, has been created by capitalist organization.

The refusal of work

Hence we must refuse housework as women’s work, as work imposed upon us, which we never invented, which has never been paid for, in which they have forced us to cope with absurd hours, 12 and 13 a day, in order to force us to stay at home. We must get out of the house; we must reject the home, because we want to unite with other women, to struggle against all situations which presume that women will stay at home, to link ourselves to the struggles of all those who are in ghettos, whether the ghetto is a nursery, a school, a hospital, an old-age home, or asylum. To abandon the home is already a form of struggle, since the social services we perform there would then cease to be carried out in those conditions, and so all those who work out of the home would then demand that the burden carried by us until now be thrown squarely where it belongs-onto the shoulders of capital. This alteration in the terms of struggle will be all the more violent the more the refusal of domestic labor on the part of women will be violent, determined and on a mass scale. The working class family is the more difficult point to break because it is the support of the worker, but as worker, and for that reason the support of capital. On this family depends the support of the class, the survival of the class – but at the woman’s expense against the class itself. The woman is the slave of a wage-slave, and her slavery ensures the slavery of her man. Like the trade union, the family protects the worker, but also ensures that he and she will never be anything but workers. And that is why the struggle of the woman of the working class against the family is crucial. To meet other women who work inside and outside their homes allows us to possess other chances of struggle. To the extent that our struggle is a struggle against work, it is inscribed in the struggle which the working class wages against capitalist work. But to the extent that the exploitation of women through domestic work has had its own specific history, tied to the survival of the nuclear family, the specific course of this struggle which must pass through the destruction of the nuclear family as established by the capitalist social order, adds a new dimension to the class struggle.

B. THE PRODUCTIVITY OF PASSIVITY

However, the woman’s role in the family is not only that of hidden supplier of social services who does not receive a wage. As we said at the beginning, to imprison women in purely complementary functions and subordinate them to men within the nuclear family has as its premise the stunting of their physical integrity. In Italy, with the successful help of the Catholic Church which has always defined her as an inferior being, a woman is compelled before marriage into sexual abstinence and after marriage into a repressed sexuality destined only to bear children, obliging her to bear children. It has created a female image of “heroic mother and happy wife” whose sexual identity is pure sublimation, whose function is essentially that of receptacle for other people’s emotional expression, who is the cushion of the familial antagonism. What has been defined, then, as female frigidity has to be redefined as an imposed passive receptivity in the sexual function as well. Now this passivity of the woman in the family is itself “productive”. Firstly it makes her the outlet for all the oppressions that men suffer in the world outside the home and at the same time the object on whom the man can exercise a hunger for power that the domination of the capitalist organization of work implants. In this sense, the woman becomes productive for capitalist organization; she acts as a safety valve for the social tensions caused by it. Secondly, the woman becomes productive inasmuch as the complete denial of her personal autonomy forces her to sublimate her frustration in a series of continuous needs that are always centered in the home, a kind of consumption which is the exact parallel of her compulsive perfectionism in her housework. Clearly, it is not our job to tell women what they should have in their homes. Nobody can define the needs of others. Our interest is to organize the struggle through which this sublimation will be unnecessary.

Dead labor and the agony of sexuality

We use the word “sublimation” advisedly. The frustrations of monotonous and trivial chores and of sexual passivity are only separable in words. Sexual creativity and creativity in labor are both areas where human need demands we give free scope to our ‘interplaying natural and acquired activities’18. For women (and therefore for men) natural and acquired powers are repressed simultaneously. The passive sexual receptivity of women creates compulsively tidy housewife and can make a monotonous assembly line therapeutic. The trivia of most of housework and discipline which is required to perform the same work over every day, every week, every year, double on holidays, destroys the possibilities of uninhibited sexuality. Our childhood is a preparation for martyrdom: we are taught to derive happiness from clean sex on whiter than white sheets; to sacrifice sexuality and other creative activity at one and the same time.

So far the women’s movement, most notably by destroying the myth of the vaginal orgasm, has exposed the physical mechanism which allowed women’s sexual potential to be strictly defined and limited by men. Now we can begin to reintegrate sexuality with other aspects of creativity, to see how sexuality will always be constrained unless the work we do does not mutilate us and our individual capacities, and unless the persons with whom we have sexual relations are not our masters and are not also mutilated by their work. To explode the vaginal myth is to demand female autonomy as opposed to subordination and sublimation. But it is not only the clitoris versus the vagina. It is both versus the uterus. Either the vagina is primarily the passage to the reproduction of labor power sold as a commodity, the capitalist function of the uterus, or it is part of our natural powers, our social equipment. Sexuality after all is the most social of expressions, the deepest human communication.

It is in that sense the dissolution of autonomy. The working class organizes as a class to transcend itself as a class; within that class we organize autonomously to create the basis to transcend autonomy.

The “political” attack against women

But while we are finding our way of being and of organizing ourselvs in struggle, we discover we are confronted by those who are only too eager to attack women, even as we form a movement. In defending herself against obliteration, through work and through consumption, they say, the woman is responsible for the lack of unity of the class. Let us make a partial list of the sins of which she stands accused. They say: 1. She wants more of her husband’s wage to buy for example clothes for herself and her children, not based on what he thinks she needs but on what she thinks she and her children should have. He works hard for the money. She only demands another kind of distribution of their lack of wealth, rather than assisting his struggle for more wealth, more wages. 2. She is in rivalry with other women to be more attractive than they, to have more things than they do, and to have a cleaner and tidier house than her neighbors’. She doesn’t ally with them as she should on a class basis. 3. She buries herself in her home and refuses to understand the struggle other husband on the production line. She may even complain when he goes out on strike rather than backing him up. She votes Conservative. These are some of the reasons given by those who consider her reactionary or at best backward, even by men who take leading roles in factory struggles and who seem most able to understand the nature of the social boss because of their militant action. It comes easy to them to condemn women for what they consider to be backwardness because that is the prevailing ideology of the society. They do not add that they have benefitted from women’s subordinate position by being waited on hand and foot from the moment of their birth. Some do not even know that they have been waited on, so natural is it to them for mothers and sisters and daughters to serve “their” men. It is very difficult for us, on the other hand, to separate inbred male supremacy from men’s attack, which appears to be strictly “political”, launched only for the benefit of the class. Let us look at the matter more closely. 1. Women as consumers Women do not make the home the center of consumption. The process of consumption is integral to the production of labor and if women refused to do the shopping (that is, to spend) this would be strike action. Having said that, however, we must add that those social relationships which women are denied because they are cut off from socially organized labor, they often try to compensate for by buying things. Whether it is adjudged trivial depends on the viewpoint and sex of the judge. Intellectuals buy books, but no one calls this consumption trivial. Independent of the validity of the contents, the book in this society still represents, through a tradition older than capitalism, a male value. We have already said that women buy things for their home because that home is the only proof that they exist. But the idea that frugal consumption is in any way a liberation is as old as capitalism, and comes from the capitalists who always blame the worker’s situation on the worker. For years Harlem was told by head- shaking liberals that if Black men would only stop driving Cadillac’s (until the finance company took them back), the problem of color would be solved. Until the violence of the struggle-the only fitting reply””provided a measure of social power, that Cadillac was one of the few ways to display the potential for power. This and not “practical economics” caused the liberals pain. In .my case, nothing any of us buys would we need if we were free. Not the food they poison for us, nor the clothes that identify us by class, sex and generation, nor the houses in which they imprison us. In any case, too, our problem is that we never have enough, not that we have too much. And that pressure which women place on men is a defense of the wage, not an attack. Precisely because women are the slaves of wage slaves, men divide the wage between themselves and the general family expense. If women did not make demands, the general family standard of living would drop to absorb the inflation””the woman of course is the first to do without. Thus unless the woman makes demands, the family is functional to capital in an additional sense to the ones we have listed: it can absorb the fall in the price of labor power.19 This, therefore, is the most ongoing material way in which women can defend the living standards of the class. And when they go out to political meetings, they will need even more money!

2. Women as rivals As for women’s “rivalry”, Frantz Fanon has clarified for the Third World what only racism prevents from being generally applied to the class. The colonized, he says, when they do not organize against their oppressors, attack each other. The woman’s pressure for greater consumption may at times express itself in the form of rivalry, but nevertheless as we have said protects the living standards of the class. Which is unlike women’s sexual rivalry; that rivalry is rooted in their economic and social dependence on men. To the degree that they live for men, dress for men, work for men, they are manipulated by men through this rivalry.20 As for rivalry about their homes, women are trained from birth to be obsessive and possessive about clean and tidy homes. But men cannot have it both ways; they cannot continue to enjoy the privilege of having a private servant and then complain about the effects of privatization. If they continue to complain, we must conclude that their attack on us for rivalry is really an apology for our servitude. If Fanon was not right, that the strife among the colonized is an expression of their low level of organization, then the antagonism is a sign of natural incapacity. When we call a home a ghetto, we could call it a colony governed by indirect rule and be as accurate. The resolution of the antagonism of the colonized to each other lies in autonomous struggle. Women have overcome greater obstacles than rivalry to unite in supporting men in struggles. Where women have been less successful is in transforming and deepening moments of struggle by making of them opportunities to raise their own demands. Autonomous struggle turns the question on its head: not “will women unite to support men”, but “will men unite to support women”.

3. Women as divisive What has prevented previous political intervention by women? Why can they be used in certain circumstances against strikes? Why, in other words, is the class not united? From the beginning of this document we have made central the exclusion of women from socialized production. That is an objective character of capitalist organization: co-operative labor in the factory and isolated labor in the home. This is mirrored subjectively by way workers in industry organize separately from the community. What is the community to do? What are women to do? Support, be appendages to men in the home and in the struggle?, even form a women’s auxiliary to unions. This division, and this kind of division is the history of the class. At every stage of the struggle the most peripheral to the productive cycle are used against those at the center, so long as the latter ignore the former. This is the history of trade unions, for example, in the United States, when Black workers were used as strikebreakers”” never by the way, as often as white workers were led to believe. Blacks like women are immediately identifiable and reports of strikebreaking reinforce prejudices which arise from objective divisions: the white on the assembly line, the Black sweeping round his feet; or the man on the assembly line, the woman sweeping round his feet when he gets home. Men when they reject work consider themselves militant, and when we reject our work, these same men consider us nagging wives. When some of us vote Conservative because we have been excluded from political struggle, they think we are backward, while they have voted for parties which didn’t even consider that we existed as anything but ballast, and in the process sold them (and us all) down the river.

C. THE PRODUCTIVITY OF DISCIPLINE

The third aspect of women’s role in the family is that, because of the special brand of stunting of the personality already discussed, the woman becomes a repressive figure, disciplinarian of all the members of the family, ideologically and psychologically. She may live under the tyranny of her husband, of her home, the tyranny of striving to be “heroic mother and happy wife” when her whole existence repudiates this ideal. Those who are tyrannized and lack power are with the new generation for the first years of their lives producing docile workers and little tyrants, in the same way the teacher does at school. (In this the Woman is joined by her husband: not by chance do parent-teacher associations exist.) Women, responsible for the reproduction of labor power, on the one hand discipline the children who will be workers tomorrow and on the other hand discipline the husband to work today, for only his wage can pay for labor power to be reproduced. Here we have only attempted to consider female domestic productivity without going into detail about the psychological implications. At least we have located and essentially outlined this female domestic productivity as it passes through the complexities of the role that the woman plays (in addition, that is, to the actual domestic work the burden of which she assumes without pay). We pose, then, as foremost the need to break this role that wants women divided from each other, from men and from children, each locked in her family as the chrysalis in the cocoon that imprisons itself by its own work, to die and leave silk for capital. To reject all this, as we have already said, means for housewives to recognize themselves also as a section of the class, the most degraded because they are not paid a wage. The housewife’s position in the overall struggle of women is crucial, since it undermines the very pillar supporting the capitalist organization of work, namely the family. So every goal that tends to affirm the individuality of women against this figure complementary to everything and everybody, that is, the housewife, is worth posing as a goal subversive to the continuation, the productivity of this role. In this same sense all the demands that can serve to restore to the woman the integrity of her basic physical functions, starting with the sexual one which was the first to be robbed along with productive creativity, have to be posed with the greatest urgency. It is not by chance that research in birth control has developed so slowly, that abortion is forbidden almost the world over or conceded finally only for “therapeutic” reasons. To move first on these demands is not facile reformism. Capitalist management of these matters poses over and over discrimination of class and discrimination of women specifically.

Why were proletarian women, Third World women, used as guinea pigs in this research? Why does the question of birth control continue to be posed as women’s problem? To begin to struggle to overthrow the capitalist management over these matters is to move on a class basis, and on a specifically female basis .To link these struggles with the struggle against motherhood conceived as the responsibility of women exclusively, against domestic work conceived as women’s work, ultimately against the models that capitalism offers us as examples of women’s emancipation which are nothing more than ugly copies of the male role, is to struggle against the division and organization of labor. Women and the struggle not to work Let us sum up. The role of housewife, behind whose isolation is hidden social labor, must be destroyed. But our alternatives are strictly defined. Up to now, the myth of female incapacity, rooted in this isolated woman dependent on someone else’s wage and therefore shaped by someone else’s consciousness, has been broken by only one action: the woman getting her own wage, breaking the back of personal economic dependence, making her own independent experience with the world outside the home, performing social labor in a socialized structure, whether the factory or the office, and initiating there her own forms of social rebellion along with the traditional forms of the class. The advent of the women’s movement is a rejection of this alternative. Capital itself is seizing upon the same impetus which created a movement””the rejection by millions of women of women’s traditional place””to recompose the work force with increasing numbers of women. The movement can only develop in opposition to this. It poses by its very existence and must pose with increasing articulation in action that women refuse the myth of liberation through work.

For we have worked enough. We have chopped billions of tons Of cotton, washed billions of dishes, scrubbed billions of floors, typed billions of words, wired billions of radio sets, washed billions of nappies, by hand and in machines. Every time they have “let us in” to some traditionally male enclave, it was to find for us a new level of exploitation. Here again we must make a parallel, different as they are, between underdevelopment in the Third World and underdevelopment in the metropolis””to be more precise, in the kitchens of the metropolis. Capitalist planning proposes to the Third World that it “develop”; that in addition to its present agonies, it too suffer the agony of an industrial counter revolution. Women in the metropolis have been offered the same “aid”. But those of us who have gone out of our homes to work because we had to or for extras or for economic independence have warned the rest: inflation has riveted us to this bloody typing pool or to this assembly line, and in that there is no salvation. We must refuse the development they are offering us. But the struggle of the working woman is not to return to the isolation of the home, appealing as this sometimes may be on Monday morning; any more than the housewife’s struggle is to exchange being imprisoned in a house for being clinched to desks or machines, appealing as this sometimes may be compared to the loneliness of the 12th story flat. Women must completely discover their own possibilities”” which are neither mending socks nor becoming captains of ocean-going ships. Better still, we may wish to do these things, but these now cannot be located anywhere but in the history of capital. The challenge to the women’s movement is to find modes of struggle which, while they liberate women from the home, at the same time avoid on the one hand a double slavery and on the other prevent another degree of capitalistic control and regimentation. This ultimately is the dividing line between reformism and revolutionary politics within the women’s movement. It seems that there have been few women of genius. There could not be since, cut off from the social process, we cannot see on what matters they could exercise their genius. Now there is a matter, the struggle itself. Freud said also that every woman from birth suffers from penis

He forgot to add that this feeling of envy begins from the moment when she perceives that in some way to have a penis means to have power. Even less did he realize that the traditional power of the penis commenced upon a whole new history at the very moment when the separation of man from woman became a capitalistic division.

And this is where our struggle begins. Mariarosa Dalla Costa & Selma James 29 December 1971

NOTES
1 This happened as part of the massive demonstration of women celebrating International Women’s Day in the US, August 1970. 2 This is to assume a whole new meaning for “education”, and the work now being done on the history of compulsory education – forced learning- proves this. In England teachers were conceived of as “moral police” who could 1)condition children against “crime”””curb working class reappropriation in the community; 2) destroy “the mob”, working class organization based on family which was still either a productive unit or at least a viable organizational unit; 3) make habitual regular attendance and good timekeeping so necessary to children’s later employment; and 4) stratify the class by grading and selection. As with the family itself, the transition to this new form of muni control was not smooth and direct, and was the result of contradictory (rices both within the class and within capital, as with every phase of the his-laity of capitalism. 3 Wage labor is based on the subordination of all relationships to the wage relation. The worker must enter as an “individual” into a contract with capital stripped of the protection of kinships. 4 Karl Marx, “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the State”, Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, ed. and trans. Lloyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat, N.Y., 1967, p.176.

5 We are not dealing here with the narrowness of the nuclear family that prevents children from having an easy transition to forming relations with other people; nor with what follows from this, the argument of psychologists that proper conditioning would have avoided such a crisis. We are dealing with the entire organization of the society, of which family, school and factory are each one ghettoized compartment. So every kind of passage from one to another of these compartments is a painful passage. The pain cannot be eliminated by tinkering with the relations between one ghetto and another but only by the destruction of every ghetto. 6 “Free fares, free lunches, free books” was one of the slogans of a section of the Italian students movement which aimed to connect the struggle of younger students with workers and university students. 7 In Britain and the US the psychologists Eysenck and Jensen, who are convinced “scientifically” that Blacks have a lower “intelligence” than whites, and the progressive educators like Ivan Illyich seem diametrically opposed. What they aim to achieve links them. They are divided by method. In any case the psychologists are not more racist than the rest, only more direct. “Intelligence” is the ability to assume your enemy’s case as wisdom and to shape your own logic on the basis of this. Where the whole society operates institutionally on the assumption of white racial superiority, these psychologists propose more conscious and thorough “conditioning” so that children who do not learn to read do not learn instead to make molotov cocktails. A sensible view with which Illyich, who is concerned with the “underachievement” of children (that is, rejection by them of “intelligence”), can agree. 8 In spite of the fact that capital manages the schools, control is never given once and for all. The working class continually and increasingly challenges the contents and refuses the costs of capitalist schooling. The response of the capitalist system is to re-establish its own control, and this control tends to be more and more regimented on factory-like lines. The new policies on education which are being hammered out even as we write, however, are more complex than this. We can only indicate here the impetus for these new policies: (a) Working class youth reject that education prepares them for anything but a factory, even if they will wear white collars there and use typewriters and drawing boards instead of riveting machines. (b) Middle class youth reject the role of mediator between the classes and the repressed personality this mediating role demands. (c) A new labor power more wage and status differentiated is called for. The present egalitarian trend must be reversed. (d) A new type of labor process may be created which will attempt to interest the worker in “participating” instead of refusing the monotony and fragmentation of the present assembly line. If the traditional “road to success” and even “success” itself are rejected by the young, new goals will have to be found to which they can aspire, that is, for which they will go to school and go to work. New “experiments” in “free” education, where the children are encouraged to participate in planning their own education and there is greater democracy between teacher and taught are springing up daily. It is an illusion to believe that this is a defeat for capital any more than regimentation will be a victory. For in the creation of a labor power more creatively manipulated, capital will not in the process lose 0.1% of profit. “As a matter of fact,” they are in effect saying, “you can be far more efficient for us if you take your own road, so long as it is through our territory.” In some parts of the factory and in the social factory, capital’s slogan will increasingly be “Liberty and fraternity to guarantee and even extend equality.” 9 We are not at all ignoring the attempts at this moment to make test-tube hahics. But today such mechanisms belong completely to capitalist science rtfid control. The use would be completely against us and against the class. It is not in our interest to abdicate procreation, to consign it to the hands of the enemy. It is in our interest to conquer the freedom to procreate for which we will pay neither the price of the wage nor the price of social exclusion. 10 To the extent that not technological innovation but only “human care” can raise children, the effective liberation from domestic work time, the qualative change of domestic work, can derive only from a movement of women, from a struggle of women: the more the movement grows, the less men””and first of all political militants-can count on female babyminding. And at the same time the new social ambiance that the movement constructs offers to children social space, with both men and women, that has nothing to do vith the day care centers organized by the State. These are already victories of struggle. Precisely because they are the results of a movement that is by its nature a struggle, they do not aim to substitute any kind of co-operation for the struggle itself.

11 It is impossible to say for how long these tendencies will continue to drive ill® movement forward and when they will turn into their opposite. 12 Some first readers in English have found that this definition of women’s ‘vork should be more precise. What we meant precisely is that housework as vork is productive in the Marxian sense, that is, is producing surplus value. We speak immediately after about the productivity of the entire female i)lc. To make clearer the productivity of the woman both as related to her vork and as related to her entire role must wait for a later text on which we are now at work. In this the woman’s place is explained in a more articulated by from the point of view of the entire capitalist circuit.

13 See Introduction p.l1. Labor power “is a strange commodity for this is not a thing. The ability to labor resides only in a human being whose life is consumed in the process of producing…To describe its basic production and reproduction is to describe women’s work.”

14 This, however, is being countered by an opposite tendency, to bring women into industry in certain particular sectors. Differing needs of capital within the line geographical sector have produced differing and even opposing propaganda and policies. Where in the past family stability has been based on a relative-standardized mythology (policy and propaganda being uniform and official-uncontested), today various sectors of capital contradict each other and undermine the very definition of family as a stable, unchanging, “natural” unit. The classic example of this is the variety of views and financial policies on birth control. The British government has recently doubled its allocation of funds for this purpose. We must examine to what extent this policy is connected with a racist immigration policy, that is, manipulation of the sources of mature labor power; and with the increasing erosion of the work ethic which results in movements of the unemployed and unsupported mothers, that is, controlling births which pollute the purity of capital with revolutionary children. 15 Which is the policy, among others, of the Communist Party in Italy who for some years proposed a bill to the Italian parliament which would have give a pension to women at home, both housewives and single women, when they reached 55 years of age. The bill was never passed. 16 Today the demand of wages for housework is put forward increasingly and with less opposition in the women’s movement in Italy and elsewhere. Since this document was first drafted (June ’71), the debate has become more profound and many uncertainties that were due to the relative newness of the discussion have been dispelled. But above all, the weight of the needs of proletarian women has not only radicalized the demands of the movement. It has also given us greater strength and confidence to advance them. A year agn at the beginning of the movement in Italy, there were those who still thought that the State could easily suffocate the female rebellion against housework by “paying” it with a monthly allowance of£7-£8 as they had already done especially with those “wretched of the earth” who were dependent on pensions. Now these uncertainties are largely dissipated. And it is clear in any case that the demand for a wage for housework is only a basis, a perspective, from which to start, whose merit is essentially to link immediately female oppression, subordination and isolation to their material foundation: female exploitation. At this moment this is perhaps the major function of the demand of wages for housework. This gives at once an indication for struggle, a direction in organizational terms in which oppression and exploitation, situation of caste and class, find themselves insolubly linked. The practical, continuous translation of this perspective is the task the movement is facing in Italy and elsewhere. 17 There has been some confusion over what we have said about canteens. A similar confusion expressed itself in the discussions in other countries as well as Italy about wages for housework. As we explained earlier, housework is as institutionalized as factory work and our ultimate goal is to destroy both institutions. But aside from which demand we are speaking about, there is a misunderstanding of what a demand is. It is a goal which is not only a thing but, like capita) at any moment, essentially a stage of antagonism of a social relation. Whether the canteen or the wages we win will be a victory or a defeat depends on the force of our struggle. On that force depends whether the goal is an occasion for capital to more rationally command our labor or an occasion for us to weaken their hold on that command. What form the goal hikes when we achieve it, whether it is wages or canteens or free birth control, emerges and is in fact created in the struggle, and registers the degree of power that we reached in that struggle. 18 Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Okonomie, Band 1, Berlin, Dietz, Verlag, 1962, p.5 12. “Large-scale industry makes it a question of life mid death to replace that monstrosity which is a miserable available working population, kept in reserve for the changing needs of exploitation by capital, In replace this with the absolute availability of the individual for changing requisites of work; to replace the partial individual, a mere bearer of a social detail function, with the fully developed individual for whom varied social functions are modes of interplaying natural and acquired activities.” 19 “But the other, more fundamental, objection, which we shall develop in the ensuing chapters, flows from our disputing the assumption that the general level of real wages is directly determined by the character of the wage bargain . ..We shall endeavor to show that primarily it is certain other forces which determine the general level of real wages … We shall argue that there has been a fundamental misunderstanding of bow in this respect the economy in which we live actually works.” (Emphasis added.) The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, John Maynard Keynes, N.Y., Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964, p. 13. “Certain other forces”, in our view, are first of all. women.

20 It has been noticed that many of the Bolsheviks after 1917 found female partners among the dispossessed aristocracy. When power continues to it-side in men both at the level of the State and in individual relations, women continue to be “the spoil and handmaid of communal lust” (Karl Max, economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1959, p.94). The breed of “the new tsars” goes back a long way. Already in 1921 from “Decisions of the Third Congress of the Communist International”, one can read in Part I of “Work Among Women”: “The Third Congress of the Comintern confirms the basic proposition of revolutionary Marxism, that is, that there is no ‘specific woman question’ and no ‘specific women’s movement’, and that every sort of alliance of working women with bourgeois feminism, as well as any support by the women workers of the treacherous tactics of the social compromisers and opportunists, leads to the undermining of the forces of the proletariat … In order to put an end to women’s slavery it is necessary to inaugurate the new Communist organization of society.” The theory being male, the practice was to “neutralize”. Let us quote from one of the founding fathers. At the first National Conference of Communist Women of the Communist Party of Italy on March 26, 1922, “Comrade Gramsci pointed out that special action must be organized among housewives, who constitute the large majority of the proletarian women. He aid that they should be related in some way to our movement by our setting up special organizations. Housewives, as far as the quality of their work IN concerned, can be considered similar to the artisans and therefore they will hardly be communists; however, because they are the workers’ mates, and because they share in some way the workers’ life, they are attracted toward communism. Our propaganda can therefore have an influence over [sic j these housewives; it can be instrumental, if not to officer them into our organization, to neutralize them; so that they do not stand in the way of the possible struggles by the workers.” (From Compagna, the Italian Communist Party organ for work among women, Year I, No.3 [April 2. 1922],p.2.)

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A Woman’s Place

Today, more than over before, magazines and newspapers are full of articles about women. Some just discuss what the society women are doing and who of the upper class is getting married. Others discuss the fact that there is a high divorce rate and try to give some answer to all this. Or they discuss millions of women going into industry or the restlessness of housewives. These articles don’t show what this restlessness means and can only try to make women feel that they are better off than they have ever been. They plead with women to be happy.

None of these articles, none, points out that if women are in any way hotter off than ever before, that it is women who have made this change themselves. They don’t point out that women want a change now and it is they who will make this change.

The method that these writers have in avoiding woman’s role in making history is to avoid the daily lives of millions of women, what they do and what they think.

It is the day-to-day lives of women that show what women want and what they do not want. Many of the writers of these articles are women, but career women who are not a part of the working women and house-wives of this country. These writers realize that if they stated the facts, it would be a weapon for women in their struggle for a new life for themselves and their families.

So they don’t take up the daily pressures that women face. They don’t take up the fact that women, dealing with these pressures in their own way, realize the strength of themselves and of other women. They avoid saying that women, feeling their own strength and doing away with the old relations, are preparing themselves and their husbands for a new and better relationship.

The co-authors of this booklet have seen this in their own lives and in the lives of the women they know. They have written this down as a beginning of the expression of what the average woman feels, thinks and lives.

The Single Woman

A lot of women work before they get married and find that they are well able to take care of themselves. They are very independent as compared to single girls twenty years ago. They want to get married but they say their marriages will be different. They say they will not let themselves be the household drudges their mothers were. A friend of or inc says that she is different from her mother because she wants more from marriage. “She didn’t expect it. I’m different. I expect it.”

Women want a part in the decisions that have to be made and very often they don’t want to struggle along on one pay check. They prefer to continue work even if just for a while after they are married so that they can at least begin to have some of the things that they want and need.

One of the greatest problems a young. single woman has to face aside from how to support herself, is what her attitude to morals she has been taught is going to be. In the process of working this out, single girls have started a whole new set of morals. Even though many girls have not thought about their actions in this way, they have gone against the whole code of morals that they were taught to live by. Many women have affairs before they are married and are not looked upon as fallen women or bad women. It is not the same as one woman years ago, going with a man and keeping it within herself. One girl told me that all of her friends had had sex relations with their boy friends and that they discussed it openly. They feel that they are entitled to this and are willing to go against the school authorities, their parents, and even those men who will not accept them. Whether or not society approves, they do what their friends are doing and insist upon approval by the force of the number who feel and act the same way.

“Hey, You’re Scaring Me”

A single woman thinks twice about getting married and giving tip the freedom that she has had before marriage. Before, she went out as she pleased and bought clothes as she needed them. She never had the freedom that men have but she was on her own. One young woman of twenty that I work with says that she a almost got married twice and she is certainly glad that she didn’t. She told me, ”I know how well off I am when I hear the married women talk about their husbands, I do what I want to do now.” When she hears the married women talk, she says, “Hey, you’re scaring me. You’ll make me an old maid.”

But all women want a home and family. This same girl is always talking about having children and about her boyfriends. Young women nowadays feel that their good times and the closeness that they have with their boyfriends should not end with marriage but should make their marriage into a real experience. It is clear that these girls don’t reject men or marriage, but they reject what marriage is today.

The Married Woman

As soon as a woman gets married she finds that she must settle down and accept responsibility. something women have always been trained to do. She realizes that she has the job of making the house that she and her husband live in a place where they can invite their friends and where they can relax after a hard day’s work. And even though a woman works, iris assumed from the very beginning that the main responsibility of the house is the woman’s and the main job of support is the man’s. The husband is to go out and support you and the children. You are to make sure that the house is clean, the children are eared for, meals are cooked, laundry is done, etc. This seems to be the fair way of doing things. But soon you find that the job of staying home and taking care of the house is not as it is painted in the movies. Housework is a never-ending job that is monotonous and repetitious. After a while doing things in the house such as ironing or getting up early to make lunches or breakfast is not something that you want to do. It becomes something that you have to do.

The Children

Some couples try to get away from this division of the work at the beginning. For instance, when a woman works, the man will share the work when they get home. The husband of one woman did more of the housework than she did, before they had children.

But any idea of sharing the work disappears when children come. When there are children the whole set-up of a man working outside and a woman working inside is shown for what it Is – an inhuman setup. The whole load of children, house, everything, becomes the woman’s. As soon as a woman quits work to have children, a man doesn’t feel he has to help her with anything. What was a division in their marriage when they first got married is now a split. Instead of the children uniting them, children divide a marriage and stick the woman in the house and glue the man to his job. But very often for a woman who works and looks forward to quitting when she has children, the coming of children makes working out of the home a life sentence. After a month or two, she is hack working again.

Few men take an interest in the details of taking care of the baby. They feel it is not their job to diaper and bathe the children. Some men even feel that, though their wives have to stay home with the children, there is no reason for them to stay home with her. So they go out and do as they please, if their wives let them, knowing that their wives are stuck at home constantly taking care of their children. If a man goes out with his friends, a woman usually fights for the right to go out with hers. One woman told me that she was pregnant and that she was sorry since she had a four-month-old baby. She said her husband was glad. She said that he knew that if she was stuck with a child he could go out as lie pleased. Fewer and fewer women take this nonsense from their husbands. Women fight tooth and nail against being shouldered with the whole responsibility of the houe and the children. They refuse to stay home and be tied to the house while their husbands continue life as though nothing had happened. If women are going to stay home their husbands are going to stay home with them.

The Family is Divided

Women are trying to break down the division that has been made between the father and the children and between the mother and the father. The privilege that society has given the man, women are not allowing him. It is a privilege that he suffers by as well as she. Men know little about their children, are not close to them, and don’t know what giving time and work to a child gives hack to you. It is this giving that a woman does that makes her so much closer to her children than a father ever can be. Men feel that supporting a child is all they have to do to get the love of their child and the respect of their wife. They feel that nothing else should be asked of them-but the less that is asked of them the less they get in return.

It is not an easy thing for a woman to get used to being a mother. For one thing you know that you are responsible for this child completely. If your husband stops supporting him then you have to. You have to raise him. No one else will. Whatever kind of person he grows up to he will be mainly your doing. As soon as you have a child you have to make your marriage work. Now it is not only you but another person who didn’t ask to be born who will suffer if your marriage goes on the rocks. A lot of marriages that would ordinarily break up are held together by the woman in order to save her child from a broken home.

A woman’s whole life revolves around her children. She thinks of them first. She finds that these are the only people in her life who really need her. If she has nothing more, she lives for them. She organizes her work so she can give them the best care. The schedule that she lives on shows that her time is not her own but belongs to her children. She must often go without things so that they will have what they need. She must try to live in a house that is safe enough and roomy enough for them. Sometimes she even has to fight with her husband for something that she feels they need and he is not willing for them to have. She plans her life according to their age.

It is easy for a man to say it is his child but for the real worry when they are sick or misbehave, how they are eating and how much they sleep. These things are on the women’s shoulders. How a child’s shoes fit him, where his clothes are’ kept, even things like this most fathers don’t know anything about. This doesn’t mean that fathers like it this way. It’s just that even if they didn’t there is very little that they can do about it. When they go away in the morning, the kids are usually asleep and when they get home at night they are near their bed time. Their whole lives are concerned with making a living, and the problems involved in that. Because they are not around their children enough, they have very little idea about what children need, not only in the way of physical needs, but in terms of discipline and love and security. The division that is made between home and factory creates a division between the father and his children. It is obvious that when the father and mother lead separate lives, the children as well are going to suffer. They are often used by each parent as weapons against the other. The children seldom know where they stand and try as soon as possible to get away from it all. They refuse to be a part of this constant family war and just disassociate themselves from it as soon as they are old enough.

Then the Kids Come Home

The work that is part of having a child destroys much of the pleasure of having them for the one that has to do the work. To be with the children day in and day out, week in and week out, to clean up after them, and to keep them clean, to worry about whether they are going in the street or are catching a cold is not only a terrible strain, hut it becomes the only thing that you see in your child – the work and the worry involved. You begin to see in the child only the work and none of the pleasure. You feel that every stage of his growing up means, not just a developing child but more work for you to do. You see a child as a hindrance to your getting your other work done and to your having free time. He seems to be “in your way” rather than part of your life. Just about the time that you think you’re finished cleaning the house, the kids come home and the whole routine starts all over again, finger marks on the wall, muddy shoes and scattered toys. You don’t ever realize how much of a barrier the work of raising a child creates until he tin ally gets into his teens. He is less work to. you and you rave more time and more of a chance to appreciate him as a person. But then it is too late. He has grown away from you and you can’t really see him and know him and appreciate him.

If a woman can’t make her husband understand this (and since a man doesn’t go through it, it is very hard for him to understand), she must literally force out of him some free time away from the children for herself. This doesn’t solve anything hut it relieves the tension for a while. Sometimes men don’t want their wives to have any freedom at all. They don’t trust them or have some old-fashioned idea that they don’t need it or shouldn’t have it. The only people you can turn to in those situations are your neighbors. Very often, they are the only people who understand since they are women too and have the same problems. For a small amount of money or for an exchange of care they may be willing to take care of your child for an afternoon. Even then you are not really free. When you are away you may worry about whether the children are being taken good care of. Sometimes you even feel guilty about having left them at all. No one ever lets you forget that you should be home with your children. You can never really be free of them if you are a mother. Nor can you be free when you are with them. A woman finds out early that what she wanted from having children she cannot have. Her situation, her husband’s and the children’s, put the children in immediate conflict with her.

When a woman has children, she is tied down to the house and to these same children that are so important to her. You never know what it is to be a housewife until you have children.

The House

Everything a housewife does, she does alone. All the work in the house is for you to do by yourself. The only time you are with other people is when you have visitors or go visiting yourself. People think sometimes that when women go visiting they are just wasting time. But if they didn’t go visiting occasionally, they would go mad from boredom and the feeling of not having anyone to talk to. It’s so good to get out among people. The work is the same, day in and day out. ”Even if you died the house would still be there in the morning.” Sometimes you get so bored that you have to do something. One woman used to change the furniture around about every two weeks. Other women buy something new for the house or for themselves. There are a million schemes to break the monotony. The daytime radio serials help to pass the time away but nothing changes the isolation and the boredom.

The terrible thing that is always there when you are doing housework is the feeling that you’re never finished. When a man works in a factory, he may work hard and long hours. But at a certain time, he punches out and for that day at least, he is finished. Come Friday or Saturday night he is through for one or two days. In the house you are never finished. Not only is there always something to be done, but there is always someone to mess up almost before you are finished. After four or six hours of a thorough housecleaning, the kids will come home and in five minutes the house will be a shambles. Or your husband will dirty all the ashtrays there are in the house. Or it will rain right after you wash the windows. You may be able to control your children or get your husband to be more careful, but that doesn’t solve much. The way that the house is set up, neither the husband nor the children have any idea how much effort and real hard work and time have gone into cleaning the house. The way that the house is set up you have no control over the hours of work, the kind of work that you will have to do, and how much work you do. These are what women want to control.

The rest of the family is no part of the house. They just live there. You make the home what it is-a place where they can relax. You make it livable. You make it attractive. You make it comfortable. You keep it clean. And you are the only one who can never completely enjoy it. You always have your eye out for what has to be done. And picking up after people seems to be a never-ending job. You can never relax where you spend most of your time, energy and ability.

Most women don’t even make the real decisions where the house is concerned. Even though they can use their own judgment on many small things. The really big things are either decided outright by the husband or he makes sure that his pressure is felt. Women feel that they must have a say in the house. They participate in the decisions of the house more than ever today. But they have had to put rip a long fight to get this recognition.

“Your own boss”

They say a woman is her own boss. That is, no one tells her how fast to work. No one tells her how much to do. And nobody stands over her all day. She can sit down when she wants to and smoke a cigarette or eat when she gets hungry. A housewife has an entirely different kind of a boss. Her first boss is her husband’s work. Everything a woman has to do is dependent on the job her husband has. Whatever her husband makes, that is what the family has to live on. How much clothes she buys, or whether she has to make them, whether clothes go to the laundromat or are washed by hand, whether they live in a crowded apartment or in a house with enough room for the family. Whether she has a washing machine or does clothes by hand, all of these things are decided by the kind of job her husband has.

The hours that her husband works determines her whole schedule and how she will live, and when she will do her work. One big problem for a woman is having a husband who works nights. Then there is no schedule. By the time that the housework is done. her husband gets up and the house is messed again. If there are children then there are two schedules to be met. The children have to be kept quiet during the day, which is almost impossible with children.

Whether her husband has a comparatively easy job or a hard one affects her life, too. A man who works very hard is not going to help her with any of the work around the house. He is going to come home a lot grouchier and harder to live with. The woman has to learn to keep her temper a lot more if there is to be any peace. And the children have to be kept in line more. too.

Even where she lives is decided by her husband’s work. The part of town that makes going to work the easiest is the part of town that you live in. And if there are no jobs in the town that are in your husband’s line of work then you have to forget all your friends and all the ties of Family and you go to where he can find work.

The children and the demands of taking care of them is the next decider of how a woman is to spend her life. There is, nothing more demanding than an infant. When they want something, they want it at that moment and not a moment later.

But the most ruthless boss and the one that really keeps a woman going is the work itself. The work does not look on you as being a human being. It is there no matter how you feel or what you want to do. It dominates every spare moment that you have, either in the house or away from it. You are constantly trying to finish work that has no end. You want to do all that you have to do in the least possible time and have free time for yourself. And after you think you are finished you find that there is something else. Sometimes women will give up and let the house go for a few days or a few hours. But they are the ones who are bothered by it. And then they will work twice as hard trying to make up for lost time. You are always doing what you have to do. What you want to do doesn’t count for much.

Most women are very responsible. They feel that, as mothers and wives, they want to do the best possible jobs. They want to be proud of their homes and children. There is no other place where they can show what they can do. If a woman is a good manager she has the respect of other women and that is important to any woman.

So there is really no need of a foreman or lead girl at home. It is the way a woman lives and the work that she must do that keeps her toeing the mark. It is this way of life also that teaches her discipline. She learns when to say something and when to keep quiet. She learns to do things on her own. if there is something that has to be done and her husband won’t do it, she does it herself. One woman with four children painted the whole outside of her house. She said that she didn’t want to wait another five years for her husband to do it.

It Takes Experience

Every time a womans husband gets a raise she says to herself, now I will catch up. That extra few dollars will change things. But by the time the time he gets that raise, prices have jumped to make up for it, or he has been sick and lost a day’s pay, or thee has been an ”extra”. And even if things have gone along fairlysmoothly, you go and buy the things that you have needed all along but just weren’t able to afford before So you are right back where you started from. Almost all workers families live from day to day. There is very little chance to put something away for an emergency. If a family missed just one paycheck it may set them back for weeks. In all that time the housewife must manage somehow. The same thing happens when the workingman goes out on strike. For weeks and sometimes months she must manage on practically nothing. The miners’ wives have a system of storing food and clothes away when their husbands are working steady. In that way, when there is a strike they can live for a while at least on what they have saved up in the way of food and clothes. It takes a lot of experience and training to learn all the tricks and the woman is the only one in a position to learn these ‘tricks”. Corners can be cut in an emergency that you never thought could be cut and you somehow manage.

A woman has to get along on what her husband makes. It doesn’t matter how much or how little he brings home. She must decide when to make clothes and when she can afford to buy them. She finds recipes for making economical meals that at the same time look and taste good. The way the family lives, whether there are bill collectors at the door, or food on the table, is dependent on how much money her husband gives her and how she manages it. Although most husbands realize that prices are high, they don’t really know how much it takes to keep a family going. It is only the woman who has to live on impossibly little who knows about how to manage finances.

All of this experience prepares a woman to manage when she is on her own. The woman whose husband runs out on her has a pretty tough job on her hands, especially if she has children. If she has relatives who will help her at the beginning then she is considered lucky. But on the whole she has to be both mother and a father to the children. She has no choice about working. She assumes the responsibility of both a man and woman. She supports her family on what she makes, which is usually much less than a man makes. She has less time with her children and sometimes has to be separated from them in order to be able to work. Yet these women manage to bring up their children and start new lives for themselves. They don’t sit home and weep. My friend has a neighbor whose husband ran out on her and left her with a child and all the bills. This woman sold all the furniture and with the money took a trip to Puerto Rico to see her mother. It was something to meet hot. If she cried, you didn’t know about it. She just said that she wasn’t going to wait around like a damn fool. She had never done anything like that before but when the time came, she knew just what to do.

They Just Lead Separate Lives

A woman stays at home alone all day. She waits for her husband to come home to tell him of the things that have happened during the day, something that the kids have done or said that shows what wonderful kids they are, or what a hard day she had. She wants to hear what he has gone through and what he thinks about buying this or that for the house. But his life is not in the house. When a man comes home from work, he wants to do nothing. Sometimes he doesn’t even want to do any talking. You wait all day for someone to talk to, and then when your husband comes home he picks up the paper and acts as if he doesn’t even know you exist. When a woman is home all day, she wants to go out to a show or for a drive on Sunday afternoon. But during the week your husband comes home exhausted and even on weekends he sometimes wants to stay home and relax. He has been away from the house most of his waking hours. Now is his chance to sit around. Women have needs of companionship and understanding that men know nothing about. If there is not that understanding between men and women about their work and human needs. It is not surprising that many marriages can’t make a go of their sex lives, the most delicate phase of their relationship. Their husbands, the people they should be closest to, often are furthest away from. They just lead separate lives.

Women Know Each Other

If women can’t turn to their husbands, then they turn to other women. Because of the fact that women lead such similar lives, they know and understand each other. In the neighborhood some women will get very close to others. These women in a court or a street will help each other out if they need help and make the time of day go faster. They talk of things they would not dream of talking to their husbands about even if their husbands would listen. Who can tell a man how they want to fix up a house or what they want to buy for the children. Things like problems with your husband or financial problems are common property”. The women discuss all the things that at feet their lives–whether or not to have children and how many to have, how to save money on clothes, housewares and food, which stores have lower prices, the best method of birth control, sex problems, going to work. In the discussions many things are resolved. Women get new attitudes as a result of hearing other women talk. The women will exclude someone from their group because she is not doing what is expected of her. A mother who neglects her child or does not take care of the house and has no excuse for it will not have the time or confidence of the other women.

Some people call this gossiping but it’s much more than that. Women are breaking down the isolation of the home by creating strong ties with other women. It is the only group life a housewife can have and she makes the most of it. The very existence of these ties with other housewives is condemnation of the relations a woman has with her husband, with her work, and with the rest of society. The women come together, talk together, and, in a way, live together. There is no one else they can turn to but themselves. There is one place where they can decide whom they will be with, where they will be, and what they will do. There is no one who will stand in the way.

The best time of the week in my court is Friday. Everybody cleans house on Friday so they will have less to do on the weekend. After they are finished, in the afternoon, someone will run out for beer and we will sit around and talk and relax and compare notes. The sociability is at its highest and we all feel most relaxed when the work is done. There is a feeling of closeness and kidding around that you can’t get anywhere else except with these people that know you and accept you on your own terms.

This is how women are organized. With the experience they have in managing things and with the aid of the other women in their group. They know what to do when they want to take action. The women in a housing project in San Francisco got together to halt the rise in prices. They saw the government wasn’t doing anything so they took matters into their own hands. They held meetings and demonstrations and distributed leaflets. No one person organized it. After living with their neighbors in a housing project for so long they knew each other intimately; each other’s weaknesses and strengths, The women made price lists up of every store in town and bought at only those stores that had the lowest prices. The whole city knew about “Mama’s OPA” and the papers had many articles on it.1

There are many times that the housewives take actions that never reach the papers. Women will barricade streets so that their children will have a place to play. The police with tear gas bombs cannot drive them away. Women will pass the word along to other women that on a certain day no woman is to buy meat. They would just walk up to strange women and say “Don’t buy meat on such a day”. Women know each other so well that they can talk to a perfect stranger and be sure of being understood. The miners’ wives went out on strike to protest the Company selling their homes and again to protest the dust in the air of the mining towns. They got the support of their husbands in both cases. Their husbands refused to cross their picket lines.

Women act as a group because they are treated like one. They live the same way on the whole, no matter how different the individual situation may be.

A New Relationship

The most universal organization of women is the action that women take in their own homes. Each woman in her own home is making a revolution. There are some women who don’t say much to their husbands or to other women Yet when it comes to a showdowns, they just go ahead and do what they know is right. Other women argue with their husbands for the things thev feel they should have. These arguments mean something to a woman. She is not just arguing with her husband. She is showing him and even more important, herself, that she has ideas and desires of her own. Women are constantly telling men, however they can, that they can’t go on in the old way. It is this spirit of independence and self-respect that men admire in women, even when it is directed against themselves. They admire a woman who can stand on her own two feet and doesn’t let her husband walk all over her. A woman who doesn’t take it from her husband has the respect of other women and she has the respect of her husband as well. Women are more and more refusing to be just machines for raising children and getting their husbands off to work. They demand more of their husbands in the way of a relationship. If a man cannot change, they will break up the marriage rather than go on living with a stranger. Divorce nowadays is accepted because women have made it acceptable. It is clear that it is not the individual man who is involved. There are too many divorces for that. When a woman gets divorced, although it takes the form of a struggle with an individual man, it is an act opposing the whole way of life men and women must lead in our day. Women fight the role that men play in the home. This has nothing to do with how much a husband helps his wife or how good he is to the children. No matter how much a husband tries to understand the woman’s problems, no matter how well they get along, women fight the way they are forced to live and want to establish a new way of life.

The Working Woman

One of the ways that women show their rejection of their role in society is by going out to work. Many women work today who have never worked before By going out to work, women have changed their relations with their husbands and children. Along with this they have given themselves new problems to solve and have found new ways to solve them.

Women have expanded their experiences so that they know what large groups of people are thinking and doing. Fewer and fewer women today are housewives only. Most women at one time or another go to work. Some women go out to work only a few months a year. Some work steady. In any case, they have a picture of the world that they never had before.

Some women that I have worked with say that they work because they can’t get along on what their husbands make. This is true especially in the family where the man has no trade and his wages are small. But it is more and more true of everyone. Besides the high cost of living, there is another reason why it is hard to get along on one paycheck today. Women demand much more than they used to. They don’t want to go through the awful feeling of being broke that they went through during the depression. They don’t want to wash clothes by hand when, with a little extra, they can have the most modern equipment in their homes. Everything now is modern and women want the most modern appliances to work with. About the only thing you can do on one paycheck is exist.

When you are living on a small budget, it is the woman who must bear the brunt of it. She must go long distances to shop. When it becomes necessary to do without, she is usually the first person to forget her own needs.

One of the biggest financial needs that a woman has is some financial independence. They don’t want to ask their husbands before they spend any money. They want to have money of their own. To be able to afford new drapes when the old ones are still good but you are tired of looking at them, is a luxury that most women can’t afford but all women want. The paycheck that your husband gives you, although you work as hard for it as he does, is never really your own, even though it may be handed to you for the needs of the family. Those needs that women have can never be satisfied on the money the working man alone brings home.

A woman who goes to work in a factory has a feeling of independence not only about the money that is spent but about the decisions that are made in the house If you are helping to support the family, you have more right to decide not only what is to be done with the family money but you now want to have more of a part in other questions that come up in the family which your husband has always decided before. One particular man was surprised with the rights his wife took since she started to work that he told her to stay home They got along better that way he said.

It is not only decisions that a woman feels more independent about. When a woman works she knows that she doesn’t have to put up with a lot of things from her husband If he steps out of line by drinking or going out with other women then she will up and leave him faster than before She figures that now, if she has to, she can always support herself

One of the things that drives women to get jobs is the boredom and loneliness that they would have to live with it they stayed home. Women want to be with other people As compared to her husband, a woman leads an isolated life in the house b; herself. The only company that she has while she is home is the radio and the telephone. In the factory you at least work with other people and get away from the boredom and loneliness that is home life.

The thing that a woman regrets most when she goes out to work is leaving her children. It is true that you want to get away from them for a while, but you don’t like to leave them with just anybody. Most of the time you don’t know much about how they are being taken care of If they are older, you don’t know who they go around with and what they do with their tune. If your child is in a nursery school, you can ask the teacher how the child is doing. Most of the time she will say, “Fine”. But that’s all. You really don’t know how they are being treated or what kind of care they are getting. You always hope the child is doing the right thing but when you work, you are never sure.

There is also the problem of where to leave the child when you work. Many women who are separated from their husbands and have young children, have to board them out. They miss their children who seem to grow up without them. They don’t have much say in the way their children are brought up. Other women prefer to depend on neighbors whom they know rather than a nursery school that they know little or nothing about. The reason that a lot of women don’t go to work at all is because they have no one reliable to take care of their children.

Wherever She Wants to Be

Women want to be able to decide whether or not to work. If a man tells a woman to work she usually won’t. For one thing she feels that if she works when he tells her to then he gets used to it, and sometimes stops working regularly himself. He thinks that she should support him. One woman I know had to stop working because her husband thought that he could go out gambling with the money that she was making. On the other hand, if her husband tells her not to work, that doesn’t mean that she will stay home. When a woman goes out to work it is not always with the approval of her husband. Many men resent their wives working. They use as an excuse the fact that the children should stay with their mother. They also say that they are not able to help their wives with the children and with the house and shopping. Others will make it so unbearable by putting the entire burden on their wives that finally the wives will be forced to quit.

Women have to fight those men who believe that a woman’s place is in the home, and that is where they should stay. These are the men who don’t want their wives to have any independence at all, and who want to he the only ones who bring in a check so they are the only ones with a say in their homes. When a woman goes out to work, they know that she becomes much more of a person in her own right. Women have shown these men that a woman’s place is wherever she wants to be.

Those women who want to go on working and whose husbands don’t want them to, don’t tell their husbands about how hard it is to work. They keep all of that to themselves One woman on our line at work has to fight to keep working She has a fourteen year-old daughter and she says there is nothing to keep her home. Yet her husband, a professional who makes good money is constantly asking her to quit She never shows how tired she is when she gets home and she can’t afford to ask him for help or lie will make her quit. There is quite a difference in the feeling toward women working between those women who have to work and those who work because they want to. If a woman works because she wants to, she doesn’t have to take as much from the company and she can tell the boss to go to hell with his job as my neighbor puts it. When she gets tired of working she knows she can quit, and even if she doesn’t quit the very fact that she can makes her more independent of the company .

Those women who have to work the single women who are supporting themselves and sometimes their parents or the divorced women who are supporting their children, must stick to their jobs no matter how they feel or what they feel like doing. When these women get tired of working, they just go right on working. They have no choice. The company usually takes full advantage of this and knows it can depend on these women for Saturday work and overtime. When you are paying ten or fifteen dollars a week for nursery school alone, every penny counts.

Factory work for women is sometimes easy work-that is, it is not hard physically. But, like all factory work, it is dull and monotonous. In certain industries, it is hard physically. You feel in every muscle that you have put in a day’s work. The important thing, no matter what kind of work you do, is the people you work with. If the work is easy but dull, then it is the other women who make the day pass at all. If it is hard work, the only thing that keeps you going is the other women who are doing the same thing you are and going through it with you. It is not the work that is so important to you and that makes factory life bearable. It is the people with whom you work that you care about.

There is always something going on in the plant. Either someone is cracking a joke or clowning or you are having a fight with the foreman or lead girl. There is always a discussion going on about something, and everything is talked about. Sex problems or their current affairs, housework and how to manage the children, new dance steps and the latest styles, price control and housing, ways of gaining and losing weight. No matter what you want to talk about, there is someone to talk to. The girls consider each other’s feelings and interests.

Unlike the company, the girls care about each other. When on person is out, she is missed and someone usually calls to find out what is the matter. If something is seriously wrong with a particular girl. Though her immediate group of friends start a collection to buy her something or to give her money to pay the extra bills. The girls give freely of their time and their money. If a girl is rot feeling well a certain day, then the other girls or some special friends will work twice as fast to make up for her work so that she doesn’t have to miss time from work. The company never worries about the individual person. They expect, come hell or high water, the same amount of work every day. The girls are the only ones who care about each other and will help you out when you need it.

We – From Now On

When a woman comes home from work at night, there is quite a difference from when a man comes home from work. As soon as she comes home she starts working all over again. A married woman, especially if she has children, can never have the luxury of sitting down and doing nothing. There is dinner to get on the table. The dishes to be washed, the children to be bathed and gotten to bed. She has two jobs. She is a part-time mother and housewife and a full-time wage earner. The weekend which a man takes to relax, for her belongs to the house. And all the things that have been left undone during the week have to be done then. It’s a hard grind. Working and having a family. No matter how much your husband helps you or how considerate he is, the main burden of the house is still on the woman’s shoulders. Just because a woman goes out to work, it doesn’t mean she stops being a housewife.

A woman has a lot more in common with her husband when she works than when she stays home. There is more to talk to him about than there was before. The main barrier is still there however, and it is still easier to talk to other women than it is to talk to your husband. Yet, things are definitely changed for a couple. For the first time, a woman says you are not supporting this house. We are. And things will have to be we from now on .

Union and Company Women

The union and the company try to appear ‘air by putting tip women for supervisory jobs. The shop stewards and the union officials are often women. The lead girls of the company and the foreladies are often taken from the line in plants. But as soon as these girls are taken off the line they forget the rest of the girls and become agents of the union or the company, very often against the girls. The lead girls usually eat together and go out together and consider themselves better than the rest. They act just like the men supervisors. But they use the fact that they are women to try to win the confidence of the other girls in order to get more production and to keep the girls in line.

One of the lead girls in my plant was asked by the supervisor to get out double production. She said she would never do that to the girls and cried like a baby for days. It never dawned on her that the only way she could get the supervisor to stop pressing her was to get the girls to protest. She handled it herself and in a few days was demanding that the girls produce, using the excuse that she had been pressured into it. Most women feel that when a woman gets to be boss, she is worse than a man. The women who get in as bosses constantly use the fact that they are women to whip the girls into line. The women union officials are the same way. Men workers talk about how the union is separated from the men. If this is true of the men’s unions, it is doubly true of the women’s. To many women it seems that the only thing that they do is collect dues and try to keep the girls in line for the company. The initiation fees are way out of proportion to the amounts that the women make and the dues are just as high. In some shops nobody knows who the shop steward is and very few of the girls care. Yet the girls will defend the union if the company attacks it. They know, however, that if anything is to be done, they will have to do it themselves.

Most women look at work as six of one and half a dozen of the other. If iris a choice of staying home in the monotony of the house, then they feel that it is worthwhile working. Some women look forward to the day when they can afford to stay home. When that day comes. They leave the plant only to conic right back most of the time. After you have worked out, even for a little while, it is hard to go back into the home. This is what happened to a lot of women during the war, who worked in defense plants. After the war, many were laid off, but some stayed. Those who were laid off and many, many more women who have never worked before are becoming working women. A woman’s place is becoming wherever she wants to be.

It is not that women enjoy work. They like the work in neither the home nor the factory. But as compared to being “just a housewife” most women feel that even factory work is preferable. My neighbor went out to work for Christmas money, and because she wanted to get away from the house for a while, but Christmas money was her excuse to her husband. Her three-year-old boy stays with his godparents so her husband has no complaint about her working. Every once in a while, she says she is quitting but she just can’t get herself to do it.

Every Woman Knows

More and more today, women are showing by their every action that they can’t go on in the old way. They have no confidence any more that what is supposed to work really will, or what is supposed to be their lives should be. Their husbands, their children, their work, all are in conflict with them. Everything they do, every decision they make, they feel may work. Marriage, children, home, none of these things are women sure of any more.

Housewives who have never worked before are waiting until their children are old enough so they can get a job. Women who have always worked are looking forward to the day when they can finally quit. Marriages that have lasted for twenty years are breaking up. Young couples after six months of marriage decide that they’d better end it now before they have children who will suffer. Young women getting out of high school instead of running to get married, get a job and an apartment of their own and live independently.

It is not that women don’t want to be wives and mothers. They want and need men to share their lives with and every woman wants children. But they feel that if they can’t have a human relationship they will have no relationship at all. Women go from being married to being divorced, from being housewives to working out, but nowhere do women see the kind of life that they want for themselves and their families.

Women are finding more and more that there is no way out but a complete change. But one thing is already clear. Things can’t go on the way they are. Every woman knows that.

Selma James

“A Woman’s Place” was first published in the United States, February 1953, by Correspondence, a group organized around the publication of a workers’ newspaper. Pseudonyms (Marie Brant and Ellen Santori) were used because of the particular form of political repression by the American State during the McCarthy era.

NOTE

1 This name came from the government department which was supposed to control prices during the second world war, the Office of Price Administration-OPA.

Reflections on Ideology After the Arab Uprisings

A key conceptual problem for observers of the Arab uprisings–academics and journalists alike–continues to be how to classify and assess the ideological transformations taking place. “The people want the downfall of the regime,” the central slogan of the uprisings, has been interpreted as anything from a return to pan-Arab sentiments to a new Arab liberalism. For some, it signaled the unification of action around a single idea that resisted the atomization of Arab societies under the neoliberal-military-Western nexus of power. Many in the West now regard the revolutionary potential more skeptically, not least due to Islamist parties winning elections. The question is whether the uprisings have produced original ideas that can foment new ideological formations, or if things have merely changed in order to stay the same? In attempting to answer the question, liberal, secular, Islamist, nationalist, along with a whole swarm of other isms (like salafism, neoliberalism and imperialism) are being thrown around rather too easily, as always. Whether we like it or not, ideology is habitually invoked to explain society and politics in the Middle East. Ideologies are both analytical categories that help scholars make sense of political ideas, and social imaginaries that help Arab individuals and societies make sense of the political worlds they occupy. They are constructs, but constructs with a life of their own that we cannot afford to ignore.

Before the uprisings, two narratives about the history of modern Middle East dominated scholarship as well as popular discourse. One claimed that secular Arab ideologies have declined since the 1970s, and the other that Islamic revivalist ideologies have become the new hegemonic force. These broad observations were rarely substantiated by studies of how ideology is produced, or by considerations of how secular and religious ideologies have borrowed from each other throughout the modern period. Furthermore, few scholars of the Middle East sought to bring recent advances in cross-disciplinary ideology theory into communication with textured social, intellectual, and political history. There have been exceptions, particularly in recent years. As Michaelle Browers showed in her groundbreaking 2009 book, Political Ideology in the Arab World, an accommodation has been taking place between liberals, socialists, Islamists and nationalists since the 1980s (albeit an accommodation often based on mutual enemies rather than common political visions). Others have made an effort to move beyond and challenge the dominant focus on intellectual history and political movements. Asaf Bayat’s Life as Politics and Tarik Sabry’s Cultural Encounters in the Arab World are two recent attempts to incorporate everyday life into our thinking about how political ideas are formed, transmitted, and lived in the region. These and other books formed the basis for my own thinking as I worked on ways to reform Middle East ideology studies from a vantage point somewhere between anthropology, media studies, intellectual history, and more traditional political science.

Then the uprisings happened. We witnessed popular mobilization on a whole new level, but phrased in terms that seemed to fall between liberalism, leftism, and Islamism, but perhaps having had nothing to do with ideologies in the first place. Maybe the compulsion to plot the uprisings into existing ideological registers merely displays the poverty of our analytical categories, or a lack of imagination. At the same time, it is equally facile to simply say that ideologies have gone away because of the popular call for a new order. As Michael Freeden has put it, there is no such thing as “post-ideology,” for ideologies are not just visions of alternative worlds, but conceptualizations of the political worlds we already inhabit. In other words, ideologies do not have to be fleshed out in neat programmatic form in order to qualify as ideologies. It also seems blatantly clear that liberalism, leftism, and Islamism—in their different varieties—have not disappeared overnight. Rather, Arab politicians, intellectuals, and activists are adapting to the new political landscapes and producing reflections on the uprisings in conversation with existing ideological traditions.

What is new, compared to the period before 2011, is the sense that something radically transformative is at play in the ideological landscape of the Arab Middle East. Many in our academic community are convinced that the “old” system of labeling fails to capture the new fluidity. A number of open questions are being posed by observers and often by events themselves. To what extent are demonstrators motivated by ideologies? Are the uprisings producing new ideological directions? In which ways are they empowering existing ideologies? Do we need to first ditch the old ideological map before we can invent anew, or do we give up on ideological signifiers altogether like the “post”-theoreticians of post-secularism, post-Islamism, and post-ideology suggest? The aim here is not to give exhaustive answers to any of these questions, but simply to offer some reflections on a possible starting point for a new conceptualization of ideology in the Arab Middle East after 2011.

Towards Cultural Ideology

To be clear, my argument is not that the uprisings were driven by ideology in the sense of elaborate strategies for a political order. My suggestion is that we adopt a more flexible concept of “ideology of everyday life,” along the lines of Bayat and Sabry, and inspired by theorists like de Certeau, Zizek, and others who have followed Althusser’s assertion that ideologies should not be seen as descriptions of the world, but rather embodied and often unconscious practices constitutive of political subjectivity. Doing so makes it possible to see how the lived experience of autocratic regimes produced registers of political language and potentials for mass mobilization. The ideology of everyday life, however, is not a completely separate entity from formalized political ideologies represented by intellectuals and politicians. The key to reforming ideology studies in the Middle East, I believe, lies in a marriage between the traditions of what Michael Herzfeld has called “cultural ideology” and more traditional intellectual history and political science.

Following this cue, and despite the drastic changes in Arab political culture over the last year, I think it makes sense to retain the big families of Arab ideologies: leftism, liberalism, Islamism, and (Arab) nationalism. The challenge is to use the terminology in a careful way that allows for cross-fertilization, fluid boundaries, and historical exchanges between the “families” of ideologies, and that speaks against common misperceptions. To take the most common, Arab leftism cannot just be grouped as secular and therefore opposed to Islamic currents. Nor can we say that liberals hold a monopoly on individual freedom. As a rule of thumb, zero-sum game descriptions of Islamism versus secularism as well as liberalism versus leftism fail to account for the many individuals and groups who borrow from each other, and who converge on particular ideological core beliefs such as social justice, individual freedom, and—of course—the need for political reform. Who can forget the image of a veiled woman in Yemen holding a placard of Che Guevara? Ideology must account for such crossovers. The key challenge is to historicize the overlaps in their different national and transnational contexts so we can begin to gain a proper understanding of the histories of Arab ideologies. Historicization is the best tool against simplistic depictions of “cultural battles” between neatly defined ideological groups.

If popular usage of ideological categories obfuscates reality, ideology theory does not automatically add any more clarity. Schools of thought and social scientific disciplines vary significantly and lead to different results when they are used in the study of ideologies. In a Marxist tradition, ideology is paramount to false consciousness used and abused by powerful actors to disguise the “base”—the real social relations of exploitation. In political science, the stark ideological contests of the twentieth century have created a legacy, where ideologies are often seen much like cultures: bounded human groups characterized by a high degree of homogeneity. This is the tradition that produces zero-sum game descriptions not just of capitalism versus communism, but—more troubling for us—Islamism versus secularism and/or liberalism. Such descriptions collapse categories of power and culture into neat packages that conform to already-taken-for-granted ideas of ideological groups, peoples, nations, and similar large-scale categories. In contrast, the way most anthropologists and social historians today look at ideology is informed by insights of the constructivist and linguistic turns in the social science of the last three decades. Rather than looking for boundedness, social historians see the existence of communities as a result of particular work aiming at producing internal coherence. This work does not just take place in political forums or in lofty political theory, but everywhere in society, and even within individuals. They stress that, like culture(s), ideologies cannot be taken as pre-given but must be critically deconstructed and contextualized when we study them historically. If ideology is a framework for the social imaginary that relates to the ideal organization of politics, then we must study it as we study social imaginaries: through broad, historicizing surveys of the public sphere.

Accepting the fluidity of the ideological landscape means that we must abandon the idea that ideologies are finite and cohesive, and instead study the processes of boundary making between them and the re-reading and re-writing of history that contributes to the formulation of new ideological positions. This can be done most productively through a combination of ethnography and analysis of mass-mediated texts and images. Simply put, if we want to comprehend how ideology is formed, we must look at life-worlds, ontologies, and the public spheres in which they are shaped, examining a variety of public culture that informs public debate, as well as less public formations such as political parties, fan cultures, and media with limited circulation. The wonderful ethnography and documentation produced in the Arab uprisings is a smorgasbord for researchers of ideology.

Ideologies in Their Middle Eastern Place

Another knotty issue in ideology theory is the universal or local nature of ideologies. Many from a liberal school of thought stress that ideologies are, by definition, ideals for a future society which easily transcend cultural and geographic boundaries–and that they derive their power from that translatability. Others would argue that, although ideologies have a common mooring in the modern era, they have found local expressions and adaptations that force us to approach them as distinct ideological traditions. Islamism is an obvious case of a modern ideological family with non-European origins. The important point is that the way Islamism, but also communism and indeed secularism, is lived and experienced varies significantly with its national, regional, and religious context. Translating this insight to secularism, Jakobsen and Pellegrini,Fenella Cannell, and others have suggested that we talk about secular traditions rather than secularism, secularization, or “the secular” in India, Turkey, France, and other places with more or less homogenous histories of secularization and debates about secularism.

If we apply this approach to the Arab countries, it might be possible to identify three interconnected secular traditions in the Levant, the Gulf, and North Africa. Reflections on the need for a secular state first emerged in the late Ottoman period–either in the Young Turk movement, or in the concurrent Arab cultural movement known as the Nahda. In the early twentieth century, a number of ideological currents influenced Arab intelligentsias. Arab nationalist and Islamists both stressed the need for a common cultural community in the Middle East. And Marxist, Ba’thist, and socialist ideologies informed political life in the Arab states that came into being on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and Western colonialism. Secular ideologies were partly inspired by forms of Western modernism–tiermondism, socialist distribution policies, and state centralisation–but also by ordinary people’s experience of Western colonialism, and by existing forms of social organisation and institutions that predated the European colonial presence. They competed with Islamism and Arab nationalism for influence, and resulted in a plethora of groups and intellectual trends, of which Nasser’s Arab nationalism became the most popular and successful.

Since the high tide of Nasserism, there has, in Browers’ words, been a retreat from secularism both in Arab nationalist and socialist thinking. In the process, many key concepts of the old left such as anti-imperialism and social justice have fertilized Islamist ideologies. Because the decline of leftist parties has coincided with a religious revival in the Middle East, giving strength and support to Islamist groups, ideology in the Middle East is today mainly examined from the vantage point of the Islamic revival, or, alternatively, as a competition between secular and Islamic tendencies. What has been lost in this paradigmatic shift in Middle East studies is the extent to which leftism remains a strong identification that has inspired both Islamists and liberals. If we want to understand how ideology is produced in today’s Middle East and what role it plays for society and politics, Arab leftism must be part of the picture. It has been sorely understudied to date and the Arab uprisings are the perfect occasion for a comprehensive revaluation.

Secular/ization/ism in Middle East Studies

The emphasis on Islamism in our field has also had an effect on the way we discuss Arab secularism. Outside of Middle East studies, secularism has attracted significant attention in anthropology, social theory, and religious studies. Generally speaking, the interest in secularism –dating roughly from the late 1980s–does not come from a deep engagement in secularist traditions, but from the recognition that a new language of politics is needed to understand the role of religious self-expression in the public sphere. Long gone is the time when secularism seemed to have no ideological significance on its own other than the taken-for-granted absence of religion. This need for religion as the lens through which we view the secular is particularly pronounced in works on secularism in the Arab Middle East due to the perceived centrality of Islam in shaping debates about state, society, and subjectivity.

The theorization of secularism can be divided into three currents: state doctrine (secularism), historical process (secularization), and political/ethical ideal (the secular). Even in very careful and considered analyses, there is inevitably a degree of confusion between these three categories, stemming from the popular usage of “secularism” to cover all three. An additional problem with the three categories is that none of them fully capture perhaps the most common-sense understanding of secularism, namely as social identity, that is, secularism as a blueprint for the individual’s life and place in the world. When we hear in the media that so-and-so are “secular” demonstrators, it is often with reference to this understanding of a group of people who not only hold certain views about the prescribed minimal role of religion in public life, but also conduct themselves and appear in a way that is (to a Western eye) non-religious. This is the opposite of what the literature commenting on secularism in Arab countries like Egypt has actually been concerned with, namely, individuals who make choices outside the box of Enlightenment-based liberal secularism and, again, appear “religious.” Their agency is political, not by directly affecting elections and state, but in the way that they enact a new political language based on comportment, behavior, modesty, and piety. This is what Asaf Bayat calls the politics of everyday life, and Saba Mahmood has labeled the politics of piety.

Another important writer on Islamic piety, Charles Hirschkind, has recently turned to the question of secularism in light of the Egyptian uprising. He sees Egypt in 2011 as a “post-secular”, or “asecular” moment (borrowing from Hussein Agrama) in the sense that the demonstrators defied a secular-Islamist distinction which the Mubarak regime had carefully maintained for decades in order to undermine the possibility of a unified opposition. This moment built on an intellectual and political tradition going back to the Kifaya movement and even further back to the 1980s, when a number of thinkers and activists paved the way for inscribing Islam in nationalism and, increasingly, liberalism. Because Islamic identity had become so inscribed and taken for granted as part of the politics of everyday life, and because Islamist slogans by and large were not heard in the uprisings, secularism versus Islamism simply was not an issue, Hirschkind argues. It has, of course, very much become an issue again in the aftermath as established political forces have moved into the political territory cleared by the uprisings. Like in Egypt, there is in Tunisia today a looming fear of a secular-Islamist “battle of cultures,” even though it was not an important factor in the popular push to overthrow the Ben Ali regime. Decades of secularist state rhetoric does not go away overnight. Nor should we be blind to the fact that Islamist actors, some of them distinctly illiberal, see this as their moment to bring their claims to the fore.

Beyond the Islamist-Secular Paradigm

Salafists clamouring for public morality should not blind us to the crucial problem concerning ideology studies of the Middle East, namely that scholars have tended to separate Islamist and secular positions too neatly. In the crudest rendition of this ostensible zero-sum game, a dejected Arab East has today turned its back on its own modern advances during the age of colonialism and post-colonial developmentalism and returned to a pre-modern culturalist mode of Islamic politics (Bernard Lewis). A more nuanced but also flawed strain of analysis places Middle Eastern contentions over Islam in the context of a global struggle where “secularism confronts Islam” in today’s world (Olivier Roy).

Both approaches assume cohesion within each of secularism and Islamism, respectively, that becomes untenable upon closer inspection. Furthermore, the very idea that secularism is a separate ideology often obfuscates, more than it clarifies, social reality. As the 2011 uprisings made visible, an Islamic leaning does not preclude leftist positions and ambitions for democratic change, social justice, and even for secularization. In other words, the degree of individual religiosity does not predetermine political positions. There are many shades of Islamism, and while some display anti-secular stances, others take inspiration from and work with secular leftist groups. The same can be said about many leftist political movements that have abandoned previous laic stances and instead appropriate Islamic rhetoric about cultural authenticity and nationalism. In Lebanon, a note on AUB’s wall that I spotted in 2009 reads: “I am against sectarianism, but I am not secular.” It points to heated debates in Lebanon over how to reform the sectarian system–a reform process promoted both from a pious (e.g., Hizbollah) and proto-secularist (e.g., the Laique Pride movement) viewpoint.

The interventions of Mahmood, Hirschkind, Deeb and others have been crucial for our understanding of Islamism but also of the place and meaning of secularism vis-à-vis Islamism. In reaction to what many see as a secularist bias in ideology studies, their works challenge the common perception that the link between modernity and secularism is somehow obvious. Instead they have declared the pious subject as a neglected and potentially more authentic Middle Eastern modernity. These works have contributed to inscribing Islamism where it belongs: in the realm of modern phenomena. However, their insistence on a reified pious subject is as problematic as the secular bias in understandings of modernity that they challenge. Like others such asGregory Starrett who have recently criticized the “piety” literature, I believe that the usefulness of “the secular” as an analytical antidote to the Islamic revival is suspect, simply because the things we might identify as religious and secular are often entwined, and are essentially aspects of the same experience of modernity. Moreover, in Islamic circles the supposed de-secularization in Arab societies, the withering away of “belief” in secularism, paradoxically tends to dovetail with secularization in the sense of transfer of moral and cultural authority away from religious institutions. Similar trends can be observed in mass media, where the rise of an Islamic web-based umma has undermined traditional ‘ulama.

In these and other ways, the Islamic revival and its grassroots activism is producing a pious modern, but at the same time it is also engendering other social processes, which could be said to be secularizing. Indeed, the extraordinary recent expansion of mass media in the Middle East is a reason for some of the disquiet that may partly account for the new pious subject. Conversely, people who define themselves as secular are concerned about the influence of Islamist media in specific local social domains where they have traditionally held power, like the Arab media industries and the art scene. Their historical experience of having been in charge of the mighty ship of modernization is producing a secular élan–what Esra Özyürek calls a “nostalgia for the modern,” emotionally charged with longing for a period before the Arab left lost its influence. Nostalgia feeds on romantic notions of an earlier, revolutionary phase of leftism that has now been superseded by Islamism, authoritarian regimes, and neoliberal economies. If Arab leftism has been reinvigorated in the uprisings, which I believe it has, it is because leftists sense a possibility of overcoming nostalgia and finally delivering on the promises of ideological and organisational reform.

Islamist groups are tied to the modern history of the left primarily in the way they build on the rhetorical foundations of populism laid by secular Arabism, but with an added element of religiously based cultural identity and symbolism. The Iranian revolution in 1979 marked an important turning point in that respect by providing common ideals of anti-Imperialism and popular revolution. As a result, many of the secular left’s ideological focal points have merged with those of the Islamists, producing, among other things, an “Islamic left” in countries like Egypt and Lebanon, “conversions” of prominent leftists such as Palestinian writer Munir Shafiq to the Islamic cause in the 1980s, a shared human rights agenda since the 1990s, and a comprehensive attempt by leftist intellectuals to analyze what Islamism means for their societies. Similar views on the United States, Israel, and authoritarian Arab regimes have given occasion for common ground between Islamists and secular leftists. Moreover, overlaps between religious and secular ideologies and the social institutions producing them can be traced back to the early twentieth century, which points to a deeper correlation between secular and religious ideologies than what is assumed by classic secularisation theory. If historians pay attention to these deeper correlations, we will have a better chance to understand the transformations and conversations taking place in the ideological landscape after 2011.

My Lonely and Beautiful Country: Recent Work on the Cinema of Turkey I

by: Anthony Alessandrini

Upon being awarded the Best Director honor at Cannes in 2008 for his film Üç Maymun [Three Monkeys]—becoming the first Turkish director to receive this award—Nuri Bilge Ceylan declared that he wanted to dedicate the award “To my lonely and beautiful country, which I love passionately.” Ceylan’s words are very much in keeping with the melancholy quality of his films themselves: one thinks of the protagonist of his previous film, İklimler [Climates], played by Ceylan himself, a solitary figure wandering through the almost unimaginable mountainous beauty of Ağrı, in the snowy eastern province of Turkey, or the two heroes of his 2002 film Uzak [Distant], who take turns staring out across the Bosphorus, shot by Ceylan to maximize its almost painful loveliness. (I have not yet had the chance to see Ceylan’s latest film, Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da[Once Upon a Time in Anatolia], reviewed here, which was recently honored at Cannes, but it is clearly a continuation of his melancholic project.) But what exactly is this “loneliness” of Turkey that Ceylan wished to share with that audience in Cannes?


[Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s İklimler (Climates)]

A full answer to this question would have to consider the particular nature of Turkish national identity, located in the most literal sense between East and West, bridging Asia and Europe. In the much more narrow terms of literary and cultural studies, the particularity of Turkey, and of Turkish literature, film, and culture, has sometimes caused it to be marginalized, in part because it does not fit any of the existing paradigms: not part of the traditional sense of “European” culture, but also not able to fit into a new category such as postcolonial culture. If it was to be found anywhere, it would be within the category of Middle Eastern culture, but even here, the fit has hardly been a comfortable one.

In terms of the cinema of Turkey (I follow Asuman Suner in using the designation “the cinema of Turkey” rather than “Turkish cinema,” since the former phrase “places the emphasis not so much on ‘Turkishness’ as ethnic identity, but on Turkey as a geopolitical entity and a locus of divergent ethnic, religious, and cultural identities”), this problematic takes on a very particular form. Until the past decade, there were almost no Turkish auteurs receiving international attention. Occasionally, an individual film would receive international acclaim—Metin Erksan’s Susuz Yaz [Dry Summer] won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1964, and Yılmaz Güney’s masterpiece Yol [The Way] shared the Palme d’Or 1982—but by and large, in spite of a large body of strong work (particularly work influenced by the social realist and neo-realist traditions), the cinema of Turkey has generally not figured on the map of international cinema, neither acknowledged as part of the European artistic tradition nor recognized in the way that the various national cinemas that have contributed to the “Third Cinema” tradition have. At the same time, while it has boasted a large and influential popular film industry since the 1950s, Turkey’s Yeşilçam (the industry’s nickname, which comes from a street in the Beyoğlu section of Istanbul that was the heart of the film industry) has also not received much international attention, in part because, despite its size, it never achieved the sort of regional influence that the industries of India or Egypt achieved through the dissemination of films outside their national borders. For all these reasons, cinema studies, particularly cinema studies in English, has by and large produced very little work dealing with the cinema of Turkey.

This attitude may be beginning to change. The work of contemporary filmmakers such as Ceylan, Zeki Demirkubuz, Yeşim Ustaoğlu, and Semih Kaplanoğlu, not to mention the growing reputation of the Turkish German director Fatih Akın, has caught the attention of cineastes. Meanwhile, the popular film industry in Turkey, which had suffered a period of decline in the 1980s and 1990s, has grown much stronger in recent years, and the growing Turkish communities in Europe and the United States has meant that Turkish popular films have begun to find a wider audience outside Turkey. This moment might allow us, not just to consider the current cinema of Turkey, but also to take the opportunity to revisit the full history of a national cinema that has not as yet received the international attention that it deserves. The three books under consideration in this two-part review essay—Gönül Dönmez-Colin’s Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance, and Belonging (considered here), Asuman Suner’s New Turkish Cinema: Belonging, Identity, and Memory, and the edited collectionCinema and Politics: Turkish Cinema and the New Europe (both of which will be considered in part two of this review)—taken together, do an admirable job of laying the cornerstone for a new generation of work in English on the cinema of Turkey.

In her introduction to Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance, and Belonging, Gönül Dönmez-Colin notes that “Scholarship on Turkish cinema is rather new and the sources available in languages other than Turkish are limited”; she cites this general lack of scholarship as her “motivation in venturing into a study of a film industry that offers challenges in its diversity, originality, and uniqueness.” Dönmez-Colin comes to this challenge having written two previous books on film from the Middle East and Central Asia and having edited the collection The Cinemas of North Africa and the Middle East. In Turkish Cinema, she displays an encyclopedic knowledge of the cinema of Turkey from its inception in the early years of the twentieth century to its twenty-first century developments. While it is not without its weaknesses, Turkish Cinema is precisely the sort of book that could help to anchor the developing field of Turkish cinema studies in English.

Dönmez-Colin frames the book around the themes of identity, distance, and belonging (although, I would argue, one of the book’s strengths is that it does not force its analysis of the films she discusses into any sort of tight coherence around these three themes), and she returns repeatedly to a sense of the dissonance to be found in Turkish identity itself. She opens with an example from a classic and hugely popular film from 1970, Atıf Yılmaz’s Kara Gözlüm [My Dark-Eyed One], starring Türkan Şoray, “the sultana of Turkish cinema” (to use Dönmez-Colin’s phrase). The film follows a familiar “star is born” narrative, with Şoray playing the daughter of a fisherman who becomes a famous singer. To prepare her for her new life, she is—in a scenario repeated again and again in Turkish popular culture—assigned to learn from a teacher of etiquette, setting up the inevitable conflict between her old “à la turca” lifestyle and the new “à la franca” culture represented by “Madame” in her cultural lessons.


[Kara Gözlüm (My Dark-Eyed One)]

Dönmez-Colin finds in this oft-repeated scenario a representation of the “polarity of identities” that continues to affect Turkish cultural identity to this day, the polarity between East and West and, more recently, between religious and secular identities. Implicit here as well is the literal, geographical split in the city of Istanbul itself, between the “European” side and the “Anatolian” side (represented nicely, in Dönmez-Colin’s book, by a still from Ceylan’s film Uzak, in which, as Dönmez-Colin’s caption puts it, “the disillusioned artist/intellectual has a moment of reflection on a bench facing the Anatolian coast and perhaps begins to see the point of view of the provincial, his suppressed ‘other’”). Indeed, one of the striking points about the cinema of Turkey is that it often reflects some of the themes and styles found in what Hamid Naficy has called “exilic cinema” (Naficy’s work is a point of reference for both Dönmez-Colin and Suner), but the “distance” represented in films such as Ceylan’s Uzak is reflective not of the sense of displacement found through literal exile outside the boundaries of the nation, but rather of a pervasive displacement within Turkish society (and, indeed, even within the city of Istanbul) itself.

Rather than taking an auteurist approach and focusing on specific filmmakers (with the exception of a chapter dedicated to the work of Yılmaz Güney—although, even in this chapter, Dönmez-Colin seems more interested in viewing Güney’s films as symptoms of their historical moment rather than as examples of the interconnected body of work of an auteur), Dönmez-Colin divides the book into a series of thematic chapters, organized around interlocking themes: “In Search of Identity”; “Migration, Dis/Misplacement and Exile”; “Denied Identities”; “Gender, Sexuality and Morals in Transition”; and “A Modern Identity or Identity in a Modern World.” As the chapter titles suggest, Dönmez-Colin’s interest is in large themes, and each chapter moves through several decades in tracing these themes.

Indeed, the first chapter traces the history of the cinema of Turkey back to its origins before the founding of the Turkish Republic. Her fascinating (if brief) overview of these early origins provides, in miniature, some of the social and political themes that will recur throughout the book, including the government’s involvement with the film industry. For example, Dönmez-Colin suggests that a documentary called Ayastefanos’taki Rus Abidesinin Yıkılışı [The Demolition of the Russian Monument at St. Stephan], shot by Fuat Uzkınay, an Ottoman army officer, in 1914 and considered as the first national film according to the official history of Turkish cinema (although there are no surviving copies of the film, and some researchers have questioned whether its existence is anything more than a myth), was made as part of a series of propaganda events “organized by the Union and Progress Committee to improve public opinion.” The first official cinema institutions were placed under the control of the army, and the shooting of the first feature film, Himmet Ağanın İzdivacı [The Marriage of Himmet Ağa] (1918), was suspended when most of the cast and crew were recruited to serve in the Dardanelles. Once shooting was resumed, the film’s Romanian director, Sigmund Weinberg, was replaced by Uzkınay after war broke out between Romania and the Ottoman Empire. This early history, Dönmez-Colin argues, was central in “establishing a solid relationship between the army and cinema, which has manifested itself overtly or covertly over the decades.” It also reveals a deep interpenetration between cinema and state politics in the very origins of Turkish cinema.

These early years were followed, during the first two decades of the Republic, by a period dominated by films made by theater directors, in particular Muhsin Ertuğrul, who made the first sound film in Turkish cinema and was also the first Turkish director to receive international acclaim, winning an award at the Venice Film Festival in 1934. Dönmez-Colin likens the hegemony of Ertuğrul during this “Period of the Theater Men” to “the one-party system of the early years of the Republic”; similarly, she suggests that the next cinematic era, “The Period of Transition,” “was a transition period for Turkish politics as well.” The guiding event that she uses to mark the third period in the cinema of Turkey, the rise of the Yeşilçam film industry, is in turn linked to the ascendance to power of the Democrat Party in 1950, since the DP advocated a form of populism that was reflected in classic Yeşilçam films by directors such as Lütfi Ö. Akad, Atıf Yılmaz, Metin Erksan, and Memduh Ün. The 1960s signal the next phase in Dönmez-Colin account, with the emergence of “a new kind of cinema…influenced by social and political changes in the country,” particularly the military coup of 1960. The ouster of the Democrat Party and the establishment of a progressive constitution, in Dönmez-Colin’s account, ushered in a more relaxed atmosphere, reflected in films that experimented with social realism, including Erksan’s Susuz Yaz [A Dry Summer], Güney’s widely-praised first film At, Avrat, Silah [Horse, Woman, Gun] (1966), and Akad’s Hudutlarin Kanunu [The Law of the Borders] (1966), co-written by and starring Güney, which eventually received wide international acclaim. However, in a sign of things to come, Hudutlarin Kanunu was banned by Turkish censors and prevented from participation in foreign festivals.


[Hudutlarin Kanunu (The Law of the Borders)]

For Dönmez-Colin, the high point of this period of social realist filmmaking, 1960 to 1965, “reflected the search for identity in a period of rapid transition from traditionalism to modernism.” She sees the period that follows as marked by a split between directors like Halit Refiğ, who saw Yeşilçam as the true national cinema and advocated a rejection of Western avant-garde forms, and advocates of the “New Cinema,” who hoped to introduce modes borrowed from European art cinema into the cinema of Turkey. The films of Yılmaz Güney were rare exceptions that managed to bridge this split—his work, such as the 1970 film Umut [Hope], managed to achieve commercial success and was also revered by the New Cinema group—but his career was decimated by political repression and cut short by his untimely death in 1984.

There followed a period of general decline; while directors influenced by Güney continued to draw praise from international audiences, the late 1970s are generally seen as the end of the Yeşilçam era, as the industry succumbed to the loss of audience occasioned by the arrival of television and the flooding of the market by Hollywood films. The coup of 1980 put a close to this phase; what followed, according to Dönmez-Colin, was “another crisis of identity in Turkish cinema.” The split that emerged from this moment of cultural and political crisis was similar to the one that marked the previous era—between those, like Şerif Gören and Sinan Çetin, who argued for a robust popular national cinema, albeit one that followed the box-office formulas perfected by Hollywood, and those, like Ceylan, Zeki Demirkubuz, Yeşim Ustaoğlu, and Semih Kaplanoğlu, associated with the “New Turkish Cinema” (or the “New New Cinema,” as some called it) and its art house tradition—although the contemporary contestation lacks something of the politically-charged nature of the debates of the 1960s and 1970s. “Corresponding to the geopolitics of the country,” Dönmez-Colin concludes, falling (as she occasionally does) into the realm of the cliché, “Turkish cinema has turned its head towards the West while its feet are grounded on the soil of the East.”

Dönmez-Colin manages to make her way through this history in approximately fifty pages. As this suggests, her strength, as a critic, is in painting with a broad brush, which makes Turkish Cinema an ideal book for readers looking for an overview of the cinema of Turkey. Particularly excellent is her chapter “Gender, Sexuality, and Morals in Transition,” where she moves through literally decades worth of films, tracing the changes (and lack thereof) in the representation of women. One particularly admirable aspect of this chapter is that it manages to suggest the powerful performances and pervasive cultural influence of iconic actresses such as Şoray, Fatma Girik, and Müjde Ar, while at the same time not ignoring how the films in which they appeared helped to perpetuate a patriarchal viewpoint. Dönmez-Colin also includes an interesting analysis of the portrayal of same-sex desire in Turkish cinema, beginning with several films of the 1960s that included scenes of lesbian desire, and focusing on the contemporary work of the filmmaker and video artist Kutluğ Ataman. Dönmez-Colin’s chapter on Yılmaz Güney, who she clearly admires both for his films and for his political example, is informative and quite moving, and her analysis of the representation of suppressed cultural and political issues in Yeşim Ustaoğlu’s films Güneşe Yolculuk [Journey to the Sun] (1999) andBulutları Beklerken [Waiting for the Clouds] (2004) is also quite strong.


[Güneşe Yolculuk (Journey to the Sun)]

Dönmez-Colin’s weakness, however, is as a reader of individual films. Given her large-canvas approach, this is perhaps an inevitable problem for a book such as Turkish Cinema. Individual films often come up more as examples of larger trends or themes than as cinematic texts to be analyzed in and of themselves; given the sheer number of films that she writes about, her attention to particular films sometimes goes no further than a general overview or plot summary. Issues of form and style seem not to be of much interest, except as they might be analyzed as reflections of larger social realities or as indicators of a film’s belonging to a particular “stage” in the development of Turkish cinema. When she is addressing filmmakers whose work she clearly admires—Güney, Ustaoğlu, and Ataman appear to be particular favorites—she will stop to linger over stylistic details and narrative nuances. With other filmmakers, she has less patience, and she can be downright dismissive when addressing the films of filmmakers such as Ceylan and Demirkubuz (although in fairness she spends a significant amount of space on both of them). This unevenness appears to reflect more on her own preferences than on the significance (or lack thereof) of particular filmmakers to the narrative of Turkish cinema that she presents. This is not a complaint in and of itself; indeed, it is rather refreshing to see a book such as this one that is so stamped by the author’s individual preferences, and it reveals her to be a critic with a passion for cinema. It does mean, however, that certain readers may come away disappointed with the treatment accorded to particular films and filmmakers (since I am a great admirer of the films of Ceylan and Demirkubuz, I would include myself in this category). However, Dönmez-Colin encyclopedic knowledge of Turkish cinema and her apt encapsulation of large swathes of cultural history help to make up for these shortcomings.