Sessismo nel movimento anarchico

di Angela Beallor

This article is an attempt to add to the discourse that is (or should
be) occurring around sexism within the very movements that purport to be
fighting it. It was a hard process to distinguish between sexism within the
Anarchist movement and the general sexism within society because so many of
the criticisms that can be leveled against the Anarchist movement are
criticisms of the greater society. There is a void where critical Anarchist
feminist/anti-sexist critiques should be which has lead to a lack of
dialogue and concrete action around sexism. This critique will be based upon
many of the weaknesses within the Anarchist movement, which are often
compounded around issues of sexism (and other forms of oppression). There is
a continuum of thought and concrete action which Anarchists must address or
take up in order to combat our own sexism and sexism in the greater society.

Challenging Ideas and Behaviors

The continuum begins with our personal thoughts and behavior. Growing up
in a sexist society imbues within us the idea that women are inferior to
men. Unless these ideas are thoroughly challenged, in every aspect of our
lives, every waking minute, then these ideas are allowed to flourish in our
behavior. Many may feel this is an obvious point, but as Kevin Powell wrote
in a recent Ms. Article, “Everyday I struggle within myself not to use the
language of gender oppression, to see the sexism inherent in every aspect of
America, to challenge all injustices, not just those that are convenient for
me.” 1

Anti-sexism is not just about fighting overt forms of sexism—violent
rape, domestic violence, overtly sexist words—it is also about challenging
our relationships, the ideas that create a rape culture, the way people are
socialized, etc. These are not convenient issues to struggle around for they
involve digging deep within ourselves, traveling back in our development,
and dedicating time to the difficult process of self-change. We must
challenge the ideas and behaviors that promote sexism to other men and
alienate women—both in personal relationships and in organizations.

Recognizing that anti-sexist work is a deep, hard process is very
important but a point many miss. All too often men who are genuinely against
sexism fail to acknowledge and challenge the sexism that lies within
themselves. “I AM an anti-sexist,” they proclaim. But it is said so loudly
that many men fail to hear the voices of women. It becomes a label to
proudly sport instead of a serious and difficult process. Don’t get me
wrong, if a man is indeed anti-sexist, he needs to display it, but this is
accomplished through his actions and in his explanations of our current
reality— especially to other men. Men must become examples to challenge the
mainstream notions of masculinity and that takes more than a simple label.

Often complexities arise, however, when women challenge “anti-sexist”
men. Men get defensive when women critique their oppressive and sexist
behaviors. Rather than listening, digesting, and benefiting from the
criticism, a defensive stance is taken and women’s voices are ignored once
again. As Anarchists, we should hold criticism and self-criticism as
extremely important. No one is above being questioned, as there should be no
unnecessary hierarchy. The lack of principled criticism and self-criticism
within the Anarchist movement is the first problem that is then compounded
when applied to issues of sexism and other forms of oppression. Women must
be genuinely listened to and, if the criticisms are valid, men should seek
to change their thoughts and their actions.

Political Study

Understanding sexism is important to all within the Anarchist movement.
However, as a woman, it is not my duty to always answer questions and
educate men on how sexism affects my life. Many Anarchist groups already
have a program or project in place that could be utilized to gain a better
understanding of sexism without burdening women with the task of explaining
our lives: the political study group. When was the last time you or your
group read something on women, sexism, feminism, or women’s liberation? Many
times, and I have been guilty of this, we feel that readings on women’s
issues are not as important as readings on capitalism or anarchism or
anti-colonial struggle, etc. We have to stop considering women’s liberation
as a side project or issue and view it as an integral part of the liberation
struggle. These writings do not have to be specifically Anarchist or even
revolutionary to give us good insights. When was the last time you read
something by Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Barbara Smith, Angela Davis, Patricia
Hill Collins, or Emma Goldman? When was the last time you read something on
women in liberation struggles, rape, homophobia and sexism, etc? We must
take the initiative to read that which women have placed before us.

Encouraging Women

Since I was a little girl, I was socialized to feel inferior to men. I
was socialized to recognize where my “place” was in society and it was not
participating in an equal dialogue with men, certainly not in any type of
politics, and it was definitely not on any kind of front line of
revolutionary struggle. Even growing up in a radical political household, I
was instilled with this mentality and I know other women are as well. I
often look around at meetings, workshops, events (that are not
women-centric) and see that I am one of a handful of women in attendance or
worse yet, the only woman there. Alternately, even when there are a lot of
women in the room, I find that I am the only woman contributing to the

When examining women’s involvement in political struggle, we have to
examine the root causes. Women are socialized to look at politics as
outside of our realm. When the politics are radical or revolutionary, the
level of intimidation increases. Because of this reality, we have to exert a
lot of time and energy into creating a more anti-sexist/pro-woman movement.
We have to start by involving more women within our organizations and
movements. This first involves putting sexism as one of the main points of
organization alongside the other issues affecting women (and all humans):
racism, homophobia/heterosexism, ableism, colonialism, and class oppression
(capitalism). While we cannot place all of our energy into all of these
problems at once, we must ensure we are dealing holistically with all of
these issues within our focus. Second, we must actively recruit women into
our organizations. This takes various forms such as tabling at women’s
events, consistent outreach to women and participating in women-centric

Once women are in our organizations, we must look at the level of
participation of women within the organization. I have been involved with
politics for seven + years. It has only been within the past year and a half
that I have fully participated in politics. This is because I have had to
learn that I could speak in meetings, that I could contribute in meaningful
and positive ways, and that it is my place to contribute and participate. I
have had to overcome the intimidation I felt when I was working with men who
I looked up to and respected. I had to overcome the mental chains that were
holding me back.

A couple factors contributed to this change. A dear comrade helped me
realize that I am fully capable of participating and that no one can say
different. For him, it was crucial that I participate on an equal level and
he put a great deal of time and energy in encouraging me. He continues to
put forth this effort for other women. I will forever thank him for how much
he has helped me and I would love to see more men take up this task. Then,
my level of commitment, seriousness, and sense of responsibility to
liberatory politics forced me to put my level of involvement above my sense
of comfort. This was not an easy task at all and one that I still struggle
with to this day. This is something that we all have to battle within
ourselves; Men can help women get to this point by treating women equally
and respectfully.

We also must analyze our organizational behaviors. Are we consistently
encouraging women to take up leadership positions? Is it mostly men or women
who are taking up speaking engagements? Who talks at meetings? Who
facilitates meetings? Who does the work of the organization, and then, who
gets credit for it? (I was involved in organizing a conference once with two
men and four women. One man was credited with the entire conference and we,
(the women), were treated by him and others as his “helpers.” We did the
majority of the work, though!). We have to be very perceptive of men talking
over women, invalidating and/or ignoring a woman’s words and contributions.
We all must make an extra effort to look at the gender dynamics of our
functions and meetings. Without the direct leadership of women in any
movement, our important voices are left out of the dialogue and the fight
against sexism.

Anarchist Organizational Structures

One of the biggest challenges to the Anarchist movement is creating
viable Anarchistic/anti-authoritarian structures for our organizations. We
are struggling to create new ideas of organization from the examples we have
had and through new ideas and innovations. Not only are we trying to
organize our movement in an Anarchist fashion but it is also a testing
ground for a potential future society.

Anarchism seeks to create a society based on a great sense of personal
responsibility and accountability to ourselves and each other. We want a
society based on mutual aid and communalism. This cannot happen out of
spontaneous activity; it must result out of a highly organized society based
on democratic, decentralized structures. I hope the Anarchist movement
realizes the need to work out new structural ideas for our organizations and
a new society. I know many feel creating structure inherently runs counter
to the ideas and principles of Anarchism. I would argue that not sitting
down and forming democratic structures is counter to the ideas and
principles of Anarchism.

Jo Freeman wrote in “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” that “The idea of
structurelessness does not prevent the formation of informal structures,
only formal ones. A ‘laissez-faire’ ideal for group structure becomes a
smoke screen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony
over others. Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power. As long
as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are
made are known only to the few, and awareness of power is limited to those
who know the rules.”2

Structurelessness is often a means to perpetuate sexism, racism and
class stratification. If men are socialized to be leaders and women are not,
then it is not hard to imagine who would develop into leaders in a
non-structured organization. A lack of structure provides no means of
balancing those with certain privileges with those who are oppressed. We
must create organizational structures that inherently guard against these
forms of power imbalance.

In forming Anarchist organizational structures, we must also form
structures to specifically deal with sexism in our organizations. One very
sensitive issue that we have to be dealing with is sexual assault (and
domestic violence). I have heard of many situations where a politically
active male has sexually assaulted a fellow activist. It would be impossible
to plan out all of the steps of dealing with this type of
situation—especially since the survivor of sexual assault should largely
control what happens—but we need a skeleton of steps to help handle this
type of situation. Members of any organization should all have political
education on both rape and sexual assault and how to deal when you or
someone you know has been raped. Organizations should have a framework so
that they are not fumbling around when sexual assault happens. Not having a
framework could leave a survivor with little to no support from those whom
should be providing as much support as she or he needs.

What can Anarchist organizations do in these situations? What do we do
if one amongst us is sexually assaulted? What do we do if one amongst us has
sexually assaulted someone else? What do we do when both parties are in our
organization? I challenge all organizations to consider how to prevent
sexual assault from occurring in the first place, how to deal with it if it
does, and how to support survivors of sexual assault to the fullest extent

Taking up Womens’ Struggle

The struggle against sexism is everyone’s struggle. It affects everyone:
men, women and transgendered peoples. It is especially important that
anti-sexist men, who benefit from sexism, take up the struggle for womens’
liberation. Just as it is especially important for white people to dedicate
themselves to anti-racist struggle and straight people to dedicate
themselves to anti-homophobia/heterosexism work, men must dedicate an
intense amount of time to anti-sexist work.

For Anarchist men, the question is, are you involved with struggles
spontaneously taken up by women, led and organized by women, and primarily
aimed at other women? If not, why? I have heard the claim that many of the
struggles are “too reformist or mainstream.” In some cases this is my
critique as well but I do not see a revolutionary struggle in the United
States that is able to aid women in the ways these movements do. The answer
is not to ignore these movements but to build new movements within or
without that which already exists. Are Anarchists creating alternate
structures for survivors of sexual assault? Are we able to aid abused women
in a revolutionary fashion at this point in time? We cannot just throw up
our hands—mine and all women’s lives depend on it.

Others brush anti-sexist struggle off as “women’s work.” Others do not
see anti-sexist struggle as central to the struggle for liberation. Others
believe we can wait to challenge sexism when revolutionary change occurs.
These analyses must change. If we truly want an egalitarian society then we
must begin creating a more equitable movement—along lines of race, class,
gender, and sexuality. We must make the Anarchist movement a women’s
movement. If we want an end to sexism, our work should have began yesterday.

Forward Always, Backwards Never

Anarchists often have a good analysis of the way sexism is “a mesh of
practices, institutions, and ideas which have an overall effect of giving
more power to men than to women.”3 Beginning with an institutional analysis
is correct, however, we must also translate this into our own thoughts and
actions. Only then can all Anarchists work together most effectively (at
least along gender lines but we must also deal with homophobia, racism and
class issues). To create an egalitarian society, our movement must be
egalitarian and presently it is not. Working to create revolutionary change
must begin today by challenging our sexist, racist, and heterosexist
capitalist society. It means challenging that which is in ourselves, our
families, our neighborhoods, our communities and our movements. As Kevin
Powell said, “Just as I feel it is whites who need to be more vociferous
about racism in their communities, I feel it is men who need to speak long
and loud about sexism among each other.”4 The Anarchist movement needs to be
more vocal and active in the struggle against sexism. All our lives depend
on it.

1. Powell, Kevin. 2000. “Confessions of a Recovering Misogynist.” Ms. (April/May): 77.
2. Freeman, Jo. 197-. “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” Second Wave 2 (1). pp. ?.
3. Blood, Peter, Alan Tuttle and George Lakey. “Understanding and Fighting Sexism: A Call to Men.” In Race, Class and Gender: An Anthology, Margaret Anderson and Patricia Hill Collins, ed., pp. 181-187. California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
4. Powell, Kevin. 2000. “Confessions of a Recovering Misogynist.” Ms. (April/May): 77.

Contact Angela c/o Kent Anarchist Black Cross at: PO Box 942, Kent, Ohio 44240.

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