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The following is an excerpt from Anarchafeminism by Chiara Bottici (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021). Reprinted here with permission.
It has become something of a commonplace to argue that in order to fight the oppression of women, it is necessary to unpack the ways in which different forms of oppression intersect with one another. No single factor, be it nature or nurture, economic exploitation or cultural domination, can be said to be the single cause sufficient to explain the multifaceted sources of patriarchy and sexism. Intersectionality has consequently become the guiding principle for an increasing number of feminists, both from the global north and from the global south. Some have even claimed that intersectionality is the most important contribution by women’s studies so far. As a result, while intersectionality is embraced as a buzzword by many actors on the ground, most publications in gender theory have engaged with the concept in one way or another—whether to promote it, to criticize it, or simply to position oneself with regards to it.
Yet, strikingly enough, in all the literature engaging with intersectionality, there is barely any mention of the feminist tradition of the past that has been claiming the same point for a very long time: anarchist feminism or, as we prefer to call it, “anarchafeminism.” The latter term has been introduced by social movements trying to feminize the concept, and thereby give visibility to a specifically feminist strand within anarchist theory and practice. This anarchafeminist tradition, which has largely been neglected both in academia and in public debate, has a particularly vital contribution to offer today. Recovering that tradition is the reason why we started writing this book.
To begin, along with queer theory’s path-breaking work aimed at dismantling the gender binary of “men” versus “women,” it is pivotal to vindicate once again the need for a form of feminism that opposes the oppression of people who are perceived as women and who are discriminated precisely on that basis. Notice here that we are using the term “woman” in a way that includes all types of women: women who have been assigned the female sex at birth (AFAB), women who have been assigned the male sex at birth (AMAB), not less than feminine women, masculine women, lesbian women, trans women, queer women, and so on and so forth. Despite the alleged equality of rights, women, and all of those who are perceived as belonging to that category, are still the object of consistent discrimination. The most striking sign of the continued oppression of women is the data about gender violence, that is, the sheer amount of violence constantly inflicted on women and bodies that are perceived as such. According to some estimates, there are somewhere between 140 to 160 million women missing from the global population—meaning that, as a consequence of sex-selective abortion, infanticide, and inequalities of care, the world population is characterized by a macroscopic hole: that of all the “girls” who went “missing.”
Far from being an issue of the past, feminism, the struggle against the oppression of all “femina”, is therefore more imperative than ever. By “femina,” the Latin term from which feminism derived, we mean all those who are excluded from the “first sex,” that is from the category of “man” (homo), as defining both a specific sex and the gender neutral position for humans in general. In comparison to cisgendered males, all other sexes and genders are “second” because none of them can aspire to be both one specific position and the neutral term. For instance, in the US alone, nearly one out of six transgender people have been incarcerated at least once in their life time. Gender violence affects not only women who were assigned female at birth, but also includes transwomen and other gender-nonconforming bodies who are the target of a worldwide feminicide. The term “transmisogyny” has been coined, for instance, in order to point out how transphobia and misogyny can go hand in hand and actually mutually reinforce each other. Along with “femicide,” that is, the killing of single females, there is an ongoing “feminicide,” that is, a comprehensive and systematic discrimination and outright killing of femina that often takes place with state complicity, either in the form of delayed punishment or through impunity.
There is, therefore, an urgent need for feminism, but the latter must be supported by an articulation of women’s liberation that does not create further hierarchies, and this is precisely where anarchafeminism comes in. While other feminists from the left have been tempted to explain the oppression of women on the basis of a single factor, or have imprisoned women’s liberation into the framework of a narrow understanding of “womanhood,” anarchists have always been clear in arguing that, in order to fight patriarchy, we have to fight the multifaceted ways in which multiple factors—economic, cultural, racial, political, sexual, etc.—converge to foster it. Including, we might say, the very factors that lead us to privilege certain notions of womanhood over others.
This neglect, if not outright historical amnesia, of an important leftist tradition is certainly the result of the ban that anarchism suffered within academia in particular and within public debates in general, where anarchism has most often been deceitfully portrayed as a mere call for violence and disorder. This ban is based on a semantic conflation between “anarchy” as absence of government and “anarchy” as disorder. Anarchy does not mean disorder; it means searching for an order without an “orderer,” that is, for a form of spontaneous sociality that does not issue from a command. Those who understand anarchy as merely synonymous with disorder conflate the meaning of “order” as the existence of some patterns of behavior (without which no society is possible) with that of order as “command,” without which societies are not just possible—they are also desirable. The neglect of the anarchafeminist tradition has thus been enacted to the detriment of conceptual accuracy, inclusiveness, and, as we will see, political efficacy.
© Chiara Bottici, November 18, 2021, Anarchafeminism, Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Reprinted here with permission.
Chiara Bottici is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at The New School for Social Research.