Why socialists need feminism #womenrights #sundayreading


Published on Friday, 22 February 2013 15:21

By David Camfield

The relationship between socialism and feminism has been getting more attention in online discussions recently. This is both for good reasons — such as the article by Sharon Smith of the International Socialist Organization in the US that looks critically at how the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, which greatly influenced the ISO’s politics, has dealt with feminism — and bad, above all the current crisis in the SWP set off by the disgraceful waythat allegations of rape by a leading member were handled.

The idea that socialists should be feminists too is uncontroversial to many revolutionary socialists. But why socialism needs feminism is still worth spelling out.

Every society in the world today is shaped by the oppression of women on the basis of their gender (patriarchy/sexism). There are, of course, importance differences in what form this oppression takes because gender relations are always interwoven with class, race, sexuality and other social relations, which vary (for example, patriarchy in Canada isn’t identical to patriarchy in Cuba).

Around the world, women taking action to challenge sexism commonly (thought not always) identify themselves as feminists. If we define feminism in its widest sense as opposition to sexism — which is what it means in everyday speech today — it should be obvious why socialists should be feminists.

However, some socialists who are dedicated supporters of women’s liberation don’t consider themselves feminists. As Smith notes, some Marxists including some in her own political current haven’t “understood the need to defend feminism, and to appreciate the enormous accomplishments of the women’s movement, even after the 1960s era gave way to the backlash” against feminism and other movements of oppressed people.

But some socialists who have defended and appreciated feminism and been active in struggles against gender oppression have still insisted that socialism doesn’t need feminism and so they’re not feminists (this is what I was taught in my early years as a socialist, in the late 1980s as a member of the International Socialists — some of whose members had the kind of really sectarian anti-feminist stance that Smith criticizes). Why?

The best case for this position is that revolutionary socialist politics are deeply committed to liberation from all forms of oppression, including gender oppression, and therefore don’t need feminism. This often goes along with the belief that socialist-feminism is flawed because it advocates both united working-class struggle against exploitation and all forms of oppression (seen as the correct orientation) and autonomous (women-only) organizing against patriarchy. Women-only organizing is seen as undermining working-class politics because it allegedly means cross-class politics that don’t recognize that the interests of working-class women aren’t the same as those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

But even at its best this “socialist, not feminist” approach won’t do. Its claim that because socialism is about universal human emancipation it doesn’t need feminism evades a real problem: actually-existing socialist organizing and politics aren’t the ideal that these socialists talk about. They exist within patriarchal societies. As a result, the actions and thinking of socialists will inevitably be limited and deformed by the patriarchal gender relations that we’re committed to uprooting. So socialists need to develop our politics by learning from the actually-existing struggle against patriarchy (as well as learning from history). To do this we need feminism.

It’s feminists who are shedding light on how women are oppressed and grappling with how to challenge various manifestations of oppression, from violence against women including sexual assault to eating disorders to how families, workplaces, schools and other institutions pressure women to conduct themselves in particular ways to sexism in contemporary science and many more. Not all feminists equally, of course. Feminist politics range from revolutionary socialist-feminism all the way to pro-imperialist liberalism, and there are lively debates within feminism.

But it’s feminists who are on the cutting edge of whatever progress is being made in understanding and fighting patriarchy. Socialists should be part of that action. Socialists need to learn from the best feminisms (both socialist-feminism and others) to deepen our understanding of oppression and how to fight for liberation. The “socialist, not feminist” approach is a barrier to doing this.

“Socialist, not feminist” politics downplay the reality that patriarchy has its own dynamics. These aren’t separate from capitalism and class, but they can’t be reduced to them either. Marx’s theory of capitalism has been developed by Marxist-feminism to explain why specific features of the system perpetuate gender oppression.This is extremely important. However, it doesn’t fully explain patriarchy. To do that we also need to draw on — and develop — feminist theory in a historical and materialist way.

Socialist opposition to combining mixed-gender and autonomous women’s organizing is a mistake. Far from detracting from united working-class struggles, women-only organizing can be an effective tactic for making them possible. In patriarchal societies, mixed-gender organizing is never a level playing field for women. Organizing independently can help women to identify and tackle sexism in mixed-gender activism and make mixed-gender organizing more anti-sexist. It can be a way for women to take initiatives without having to wait for men to catch up with them. And there’s no reason that it inevitably sacrifices the interests of working-class women to those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

Another problem with the “socialist, not feminist” approach is that it tends to promote a culture among socialists in which sexism isn’t challenged as vigorously as it needs to be. To the extent that it insulates socialists from feminism, it makes it easier for socialist men to avoid dealing with tough questions about our own behaviour. Insulation from feminism can also make it harder for socialist women to challenge sexism among socialists.

Socialists worthy of the name are committed to universal human emancipation. But there’s a big difference between proclaiming a commitment and making it real. To make our politics more truly what we say we want them to be, socialists need feminism. We should be feminist socialists, and proud of it.

David Camfield is one of the editors of New Socialist Webzine.

 

Cuban Hip-Hop Group Las Krudas Embraces Feminism


By Fari Nzinga

WeNews guest author

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Las Krudas is part of an art movement in Cuba created by black feminists, says Fari Nzinga in this essay in the anthology “Getting In is Not Enough.” But like female rappers in the U.S., they fight invisibility in the industry.

 

Cuban hip hop artists Las Krudas
Cuban hip hop artists Las Krudas perform at SXSW in Austin, Texas, 2012.

 

 

Credit: austin tx/Alan on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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(WOMENSENEWS)–Black Cubans have long been told by Cuban authorities that they do not need places to express the problems of race and class because there are no such problems: they have all been solved by the Revolution. Nevertheless, black Cubans do face all manner of discrimination in contemporary Cuba.

With few formal political outlets open to young black Cubans, hip hop has emerged on the island as a powerful form of political expression; a kind of “theater of the oppressed” that addresses the racial and economic problems encountered by black Cubans. The all-female group Las Krudas stands out as particularly courageous within this hip-hop scene.

My interviews with them, among 23 conducted with women of African descent, sketch a portrait of a striking phenomenon: the emergence of a strongly oppositional, black, feminist activist art in Cuba.

Although Las Krudas cannot represent the experiences of all black women on the island, they occupy a unique position within a growing black hip-hop intelligentsia. While their activities and lyrics point to specific issues of contemporary concern around the politics of race and gender in Cuba, they differ from U.S. black female rappers and their Cuban male contemporaries in that they unwaveringly advance a feminist agenda in which they seek to politicize the social and economic reality of being black and female in Cuba. Las Krudas therefore call attention to the situation of black women in a social and political context that denies the existence of racism, sexism, status and privilege.

Fighting Invisibility

Despite Las Krudas’ members’ increasingly important position as feminists within the Cuba hip-hop culture, they share with U.S. female rappers a frustrating invisibility. In both Cuba and in the United States, women as fans, advocates and artists in hip hop are virtually ignored in discussions of the phenomenon. Both in the United States and in Cuba, male artists have been touted for the political awareness and resistant nature of their rap lyrics. For example, male rappers in both the United States and Cuba protest and criticize the multiple ways the black male body and masculinity is policed and surveilled. By contrast, many themes dominant in black female rappers’ lyrics in both the United States and Cuba articulate and-or question hegemonic notions of femininity and black female sexuality.

Although in their lyrics many black U.S. female rappers defend women against sexist assumptions and misogynist assertions made by their black male counterparts, and they attempt to build their female audience’s self-esteem and raise consciousness levels in efforts to encourage solidarity among women, most perceive feminism to be a movement specifically related to white women. In solidarity with black men, many U.S. black female rappers refuse to identify or affiliate themselves with a movement that is perceived as speaking largely to heterosexual, white, upper middle-class women’s concerns.

Unlike their North American counterparts, Las Krudas readily identify themselves as feminists and refuse to relinquish their strong critiques of the nature and effects of Cuban patriarchy on the lives of marginalized women. Las Krudas’ lyrics encourage black women to reject the racism and sexism of patriarchal notions of femininity and they seek to raise the self-esteem of their female audiences. Many U.S. black female rappers do the same, but Las Krudas’ open embrace of feminist ideals makes them unique in the world of hip hop.

Overcoming Obstacles

This open embrace of feminism by Las Krudas has caused problems for them within the state-controlled music marketing entity. One example of the racially inflected sexism routinely experienced by the group occurred during the planning of the all-women’s concert where I first saw them perform. The hip-hop agency that organized the concert is state-subsidized and run by a white man and a black woman. The agency did not want to have to pay any of the groups or artists that they did not represent (which, in this case, included all the female rapera groups in this all-women’s concert).

In addition, the director of the theater where the concert was taking place pushed for the inclusion of men on the stage even though the concert was intended to feature female artists exclusively. For instance, he tried to force the female rappers to incorporate male dancers and rappers into their acts, something Las Krudas resisted.

Ultimately, Las Krudas prevailed and successfully performed their own original, pro-woman songs, without the “enhancement” of male dancers. Las Krudas member Odaymara, aka Pasa Kruda, notes that the hip-hop world in Cuba is very sexist: “the rap world is (hmmmmph!) tan fuerte, so strong. Muy machista, muy, muy, muy: Very sexist, very, very, very.”

Odaymara explained that she was annoyed and angered at the women’s concert not only because of the way the organizers treated the female rappers but also because while the men (of the hip-hop world) showed up, their presence was perceived as counterproductive; the men never lent any real support to the women’s cause according to Las Krudas. Also, regarding the other female rappers at the concert, Las Krudas memberOlivia, aka Pelusa, noted while the women were very good interpreters of text, los textos were not written by them but by men.

Las Krudas agreed that the feminist movement as well as the hip-hop movement in Cuba has a “long way to go. Long, long, long.”

 

From “Getting In is Not Enough,” edited by Colette Morrow and Terri Ann Fredrick. Copyright 2013 by The Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Fari Nzinga is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at Duke University. She currently works as an independent writer and research consultant. Colette Morrow sat on the editorial board of Feminist Formations from 2002 to 2012, served as president of the National Women’s Studies Association (U.S.) and is a Senior Fulbright Scholar. Terri Ann Fredrick is an associate professor of English at Eastern Illinois University. Proceeds from the book go to Feminist Formations, formerly The NWSA Journal, and are applied to publishing costs.

Jeanne Theoharis is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She received her AB in Afro-American studies from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in American culture from the University of Michigan. She is the author or coauthor of six books and numerous articles on the black freedom struggle and the contemporary politics of race in the United States.

Uruguay OKs Abortion; Sex Assault Rampant in Haiti #womenrights #goodnews


By WeNews staff

Saturday, October 20, 2012

An elderly woman at a camp of makeshift tents in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
An elderly woman at a camp of makeshift tents in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris.

(WOMENSENEWS)–

Cheers

The Uruguayan Senate voted 17-14 to legalize all first-trimester abortions in a groundbreaking step in Latin America, Boston.com reported Oct. 17. Cuba is the only other country in the region where all women currently have access to first-trimester abortions.

The legislation establishes that the public health care system must guarantee every woman the freedom to decide without pressure whether to have an abortion. Recent polls have suggested that a majority of Uruguay‘s 3.3 million people favor decriminalizing abortion, as this law accomplishes.

More News to Cheer This Week:

The Retail Action Project (RAP) joined other groups Oct. 17 to support Bintou Kamara, a RAP member and Abercrombie and Fitch cashier who started a petition on Change.org to end “on-call” shifts. “On-call” scheduling leaves workers waiting by the phone to find out if they will work that day, sometimes an hour before the shift is to begin, leaving them unable to plan for child care, school or second jobs, RAP said, but they often have little choice because workers are guaranteed only one day a week of work.

Thousands of people across the country, as well as prominent New Yorkers, such as Helen Rosenthal, candidate for City Council on the Upper West Side, stood behind the Sustainable Scheduling Campaign, to address the underemployment crisis caused by corporate retailers’ unpredictable, part-time scheduling practices.

“I am here today because worker’s rights are women’s rights,” said Rosenthal. “It’s the women who at the end of the day are the glue to the family. Often they’re the economic engines not just of their families but of the community; and the only way they can hold their families together and their communities together is by having stable jobs. By having on-call schedules, it leaves [mothers] totally at risk for losing their jobs and losing the ability to support their families. We need the private sector, like these big companies, to step up and lead the way, not just for women but for all workers to have sustainable jobs.” –Maggie Freleng, WeNews correspondent

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai stood for the first time after being shot Oct. 9 and is “communicating very freely,” according to the director of the British hospital where she is undergoing treatment, CNNreported Oct. 19. Yousufzai was shot in the northwestern district of Pakistan last week after she defied the Taliban by insisting on the right of girls to go to school. Authorities are investigating the attack and say they have made a number of arrests.

Afghanistan has overcome the biggest obstacles of any country in its efforts to educate girls, according to a new global education report released Oct. 16 by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,Reuters reported. Seventy-nine percent of girls were enrolled in school in 2010 compared to 4 percent in 1999.

The girls basketball team of Franklin County High School in Indiana will be again playing in primetime slots (Fridays and Saturdays) after the school filed a consent decree in court, The National Women’s Law Center said in a press statement Oct. 16. In the past the women had been forced to play on weeknights, when attendance is lower and making it more difficult to find the time to complete their homework.

Female lawyers in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to plead cases in court for the first time beginning next month, according to a justice ministry directive published Oct. 16, The Independent Online reported. The ruling will apply to all women who have a law degree and who have spent at least three years working in a law office.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will be the first South African woman to take a top leadership position in the African Union, the Associated Press reported Oct. 15. She will be in charge of peace and security functions and keeping track of the political and economic affairs of the continent.

Up to one billion women are expected to enter the workplace in the next decade, according to the latest survey from Booz and Co. on women in the workplace, CNBC reported Oct. 15. The report says the surge in female employees, employers, producers and entrepreneurs in the next 10 years will improve not only gender equality, but global economic growth.

Inspired by the Pompidou Center in Paris, which for nearly two years removed all the men’s art from their modern galleries, the Seattle Art Museum is inviting women to take over its downtown building this fall,Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported Oct. 15. The museum will show the contribution of women to photography, video, painting and sculpture from this past century.

Women’s eNews writer Molly Ginty, editor in chief Rita Henley Jensen and editor Corinna Barnard received the Casey Award for Meritorious Journalism Oct. 18 in Washington, D.C., alongside the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Times, ABC and NPR. The Women’s eNews team won their award for “Infant Formula Companies Milk US Food Program,” with support from the Nation Institute and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Jeers

Reports of rape and sexual violence have been too common after the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people and displaced almost 25 percent of the population in Haiti, CNN reported Oct. 18. Seventy percent of households surveyed in a recent study said they were now more worried about sexual violence and 14 percent of households reported that at least one member of the household had been a victim of sexual violence since the earthquake.

High numbers of adolescent girls are also engaging in what they call “transactional sex” for shelter and food. Many of those interviewed claimed they had never sold sex before, but the earthquake had left them no option.

More News to Jeer This Week:

Nearly 38 percent of lesbians polled in a national survey said they were not routinely screened for cervical cancer, putting them at risk of developing a highly preventable cancer, according to a University of Maryland School of Medicine study, an Oct. 17 press statement said. The percentage of lesbians not being screened as recommended is higher than for women overall.

Sexual violence against girls in Zambia is rampant, according to a report released Oct. 18 by Cornell Law School’s Avon Center for Women and Justice. Eighty-four percent of students interviewed reported that they had personally experienced such abuse or knew of classmates who had experienced it. Read more in “Zambian Schoolgirls Face Rampant Sexual Violence.”

When asked his opinion on pay equality for women in the Oct. 16 debate, Mitt Romney misstated his role saying when he was the incoming governor of Massachusetts he asked women’s groups to find him qualified women to be members of his cabinet. According to senior political writer of The Phoenix, David Bernstein, Romney’s claim that he asked for such a study is false. The statement gained extensive criticism and lead to the “binders full of women” media phenomenon. Read more in “Romney’s ‘Binders of Women’ Offer Ammo to Obama.”

Police at Miami University of Ohio are investigating a flier titled “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” posted on the bathroom wall of one of its residence halls, ABC news reported Oct. 15. The tips included such graphic advice as encouraging men to have sex with unconscious women because it “doesn’t count,” drugging women with “roofies” and slitting women’s throats if they recognize their attackers.

Janis Lane, a female Tea Party leader of the Central Mississippi, came out against women having the right to vote in an interview with the Jackson Free PressAlternet reported Oct. 16. Questioned about men getting involved in the reproductive decisions of women, Lane’s response was, “Our country might have been better off if it was still just men voting. There is nothing worse than a bunch of mean, hateful women. They are diabolical in how [they] can skewer a person….double-minded, you never can trust them.”

Sexist stereotypes, humiliating photographs of women and male bylines dominate the front pages of British newspapers, according to research carried out by Women in Journalism, The Guardian reported Oct. 14. Male journalists wrote 78 percent of all front-page articles and men accounted for 84 percent of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces, according to analysis of nine national newspapers over the course of four weeks.

Noted:

Prominent women’s advocate, Kim Gandy, has been selected as president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the organization said in a press statement. The national network is a membership and advocacy organization dedicated to creating a social, political and economic environment in which violence against women no longer exists.

Actresses Eva Longoria, Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington star in a new ad that highlights Mitt Romney’s positions on women’s health issues and criticizes the Republican Party for pushing legislation to “redefine” rape and force women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds, The Huffington Post reported Oct. 15.

Ann Romney reached out to female voters Oct. 15 in central Pennsylvania, urging them to persuade their undecided friends to support her husband, Philly.com reported Oct. 16. “My message is this for women: Do you want a brighter economic future? If you do, vote for Mitt,” she said.

 

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