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Anarcha-feminism, also referred to as anarchist feminism, is a system of analysis which combines the principles and power analysis of anarchist theory with feminism. Anarcha-feminism closely resembles intersectional feminism. Anarcha-feminism generally posits that patriarchy and traditional gender roles as manifestations of involuntary coercive hierarchy should be replaced by decentralized free association. Anarcha-feminists believe that the struggle against patriarchy is an essential part of class conflict and the anarchist struggle against the state and capitalism. In essence, the philosophy sees anarchist struggle as a necessary component of feminist struggle and vice versa. L. Susan Brown claims that "as anarchism is a political philosophy that opposes all relationships of power, it is inherently feminist".
Anarcha-feminism is an anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-oppressive philosophy, with the goal of creating an "equal ground" between all genders. Anarcha-feminism suggests the social freedom and liberty of women without needed dependence upon other groups or parties.
Mikhail Bakunin opposed patriarchy and the way the law "[subjected women] to the absolute domination of the man". He argued that "[e]qual rights must belong to men and women" so that women could "become independent and be free to forge their own way of life". Bakunin foresaw the end of "the authoritarian juridicial family" and "the full sexual freedom of women". On the other hand, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon viewed the family as the most basic unit of society and of his morality and believed that women had the responsibility of fulfilling a traditional role within the family.
Since the 1860s, anarchism's radical critique of capitalism and the state has been combined with a critique of patriarchy. Anarcha-feminists thus start from the precept that modern society is dominated by men. Authoritarian traits and values—domination, exploitation, aggression and competition—are integral to hierarchical civilizations and are seen as "masculine". In contrast, non-authoritarian traits and values—cooperation, sharing, compassion and sensitivity—are regarded as "feminine" and devalued. Anarcha-feminists have thus espoused creation of a non-authoritarian, anarchist society. They refer to the creation of a society based on cooperation, sharing and mutual aid as the "feminization of society".
In its early stages of development, anarchists saw anarcha-feminism and women's struggle as second to liberating the working class. They also considered the movement flawed because they believed the feminist movement of the time did not include the class struggle. Early anarchists perceived the feminist movement to only include the privileged. Therefore, the early anarcha-feminist movement focused on change without taking away from class liberation. The movement recognized that women needed their own movement that addressed their specific needs. The movement was also rooted in the belief that education would be the key to empowering women and raising awareness among women.
Anarcha-feminism began with late 19th and early 20th century authors and theorists such as anarchist feminists Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre and Lucy Parsons. In the Spanish Civil War, an anarcha-feminist group, Mujeres Libres ("Free Women"), linked to the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, organized to defend both anarchist and feminist ideas. According to author Robert Kern, the Spanish anarchist Federica Montseny held that the "emancipation of women would lead to a quicker realization of the social revolution" and that "the revolution against sexism would have to come from intellectual and militant 'future-women'. According to this Nietzschean concept ... women could realize through art and literature the need to revise their own roles". In China, the anarcha-feminist He Zhen argued that without women's liberation society could not be liberated.
An important aspect of anarcha-feminism is its opposition to traditional concepts of family, education and gender roles. The institution of marriage is one of the most widely opposed. De Cleyre argued that marriage stifled individual growth and Goldman argued that it "is primarily an economic arrangement ... [woman] pays for it with her name, her privacy, her self-respect, her very life". Anarcha-feminists have also argued for non-hierarchical family and educational structures and had a prominent role in the creation of the Modern School in New York City, based on the ideas of Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia.
In Argentina, Virginia Bolten is responsible for the publication of a newspaper called La Voz de la Mujer (English: The Woman's Voice), which was published nine times in Rosario between 8 January 1896 and 1 January 1897 and was briefly revived in 1901. A similar paper with the same name was reportedly published later in Montevideo, which suggests that Bolten may also have founded and edited it after her deportation.
La Voz de la Mujer described itself as "dedicated to the advancement of Communist Anarchism". Its central theme was the multiple natures of women's oppression. An editorial asserted: "We believe that in present-day society, nothing and nobody has a more wretched situation than unfortunate women." They said that women were doubly oppressed by both bourgeois society and men. Its beliefs can be seen from its attack on marriage and upon male power over women. Its contributors, like anarchist feminists elsewhere, developed a concept of oppression that focused on gender. They saw marriage as a bourgeois institution which restricted women's freedom, including their sexual freedom. Marriages entered into without love, fidelity maintained through fear rather than desire and oppression of women by men they hated were all seen as symptomatic of the coercion implied by the marriage contract. It was this alienation of the individual's will that the anarchist feminists deplored and sought to remedy, initially through free love and then more thoroughly through social revolution.
An important topic within individualist anarchism is free love. Free love advocates sometimes traced their roots back to Josiah Warren and to experimental communities, which viewed sexual freedom as a clear, direct expression of an individual's self-ownership. Free love particularly stressed women's rights since most sexual laws discriminated against women, such as marriage laws and anti-birth control measures.
The most important American free love journal was Lucifer the Lightbearer (1883–1907), edited by Moses Harman and Lois Waisbrooker. Ezra and Angela Heywood's The Word was also published from 1872 to 1890 and in 1892–1893. M. E. Lazarus was also an important American individualist anarchist who promoted free love. In Europe, the main propagandist of free love within individualist anarchism was Émile Armand. He proposed the concept of "la camaraderie amoureuse" to speak of free love as the possibility of voluntary sexual encounter between consenting adults. He was also a consistent proponent of polyamory. In France, there was also feminist activity inside French individualist anarchism as promoted by individualist feminists Marie Küge, Anna Mahé, Rirette Maîtrejean and Sophia Zaïkovska.
Brazilian individualist anarchist Maria Lacerda de Moura lectured on topics such as education, women's rights, free love and antimilitarism. Her writings and essays landed her attention not only in Brazil, but also in Argentina and Uruguay. In February 1923, she launched Renascença, a periodical linked with the anarchist, progressive and freethinking circles of the period. Her thought was mainly influenced by individualist anarchists such as Han Ryner and Émile Armand.
Voltairine de Cleyre was an American anarchist and feminist who Emma Goldman once called the country's most talented anarchist woman. She was a prolific writer and speaker, opposing domination of the state, men, marriage, and religion in sexuality and women's lives. She began her activist career in the freethought movement and individualist anarchism, she evolved through mutualism to an anarchism without adjectives. In her 1895 lecture entitled Sex Slavery, de Cleyre condemns ideals of beauty that encourage women to distort their bodies and child socialization practices that create unnatural gender roles. The title of the essay refers not to traffic in women for purposes of prostitution, although that is also mentioned, but rather to marriage laws that allow men to rape their wives without consequences. Such laws make "every married woman what she is, a bonded slave, who takes her master's name, her master's bread, her master's commands, and serves her master's passions".
Although hostile to first-wave feminism and its suffragist goals, Emma Goldman advocated passionately for the rights of women and is today heralded as a founder of anarcha-feminism. In 1897, she wrote: "I demand the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases. I demand freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood." In 1906, Goldman wrote a piece entitled "The Tragedy of Woman's Emancipation" in which she argued that traditional suffragists and first-wave feminists were achieving only a superficial good for women by pursuing the vote and a movement from the home sphere. She also writes that in the ideal world women would be free to pursue their own destinies, yet "emancipation of woman, as interpreted and practically applied today, has failed to reach that great end". She pointed to the "so-called independence" of the modern woman whose true nature—her love and mother instincts—were rebuked and stifled by the suffragist and early feminist movements. Goldman's arguments in this text are arguably much more in line with the ideals of modern third-wave feminism than with the feminism of her time, especially given her emphasis on allowing women to pursue marriage and motherhood if they so desired. In Goldman's eyes, the early twentieth century idea of the emancipated woman had a "tragic effect upon the inner life of woman" by restricting her from fully fulfilling her nature and having a well-rounded life with a companion in marriage.
A nurse by training, Goldman was an early advocate for educating women about birth control. Like many contemporary feminists, she saw abortion as a tragic consequence of social conditions and birth control as a positive alternative. Goldman was also an advocate of free love and a strong critic of marriage. She saw early feminists as confined in their scope and bounded by social forces of Puritanism and capitalism. She wrote: "We are in need of unhampered growth out of old traditions and habits. The movement for women's emancipation has so far made but the first step in that direction." When Margaret Sanger, an advocate of access to birth control, coined the term "birth control" and disseminated information about various methods in the June 1914 issue of her magazine The Woman Rebel, she received aggressive support from Goldman. Sanger was arrested in August under the Comstock laws, which prohibited the dissemination of "obscene, lewd, or lascivious articles", including information relating to birth control. Although they later split from Sanger over charges of insufficient support, Goldman and Reitman distributed copies of Sanger's pamphlet Family Limitation (along with a similar essay of Reitman's). In 1915, Goldman conducted a nationwide speaking tour in part to raise awareness about contraception options. Although the nation's attitude toward the topic seemed to be liberalizing, Goldman was arrested in February 1916 and charged with violation of the Comstock Law. Refusing to pay a $100 fine, she spent two weeks in a prison workhouse, which she saw as an "opportunity" to reconnect with those rejected by society.
Goldman was also an outspoken critic of homophobia and prejudice against homosexuals. Her belief that social liberation should extend to gay men and lesbians was virtually unheard of at the time, even among anarchists. As Magnus Hirschfeld wrote, "she was the first and only woman, indeed the first and only American, to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public". In numerous speeches and letters, she defended the right of gay men and lesbians to love as they pleased and condemned the fear and stigma associated with homosexuality. As Goldman wrote in a letter to Hirschfeld: "It is a tragedy, I feel, that people of a different sexual type are caught in a world which shows so little understanding for homosexuals and is so crassly indifferent to the various gradations and variations of gender and their great significance in life."
Milly Witkop was a Ukrainian-born Jewish anarcho-syndicalist, feminist writer and activist. She was the common-law wife of Rudolf Rocker. In November 1918, Witkop and Rocker moved to Berlin; Rocker had been invited by Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG) chairman Fritz Kater to join him in building up what would become the Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD), an anarcho-syndicalist trade union. Both Rocker and Witkop became members of the FAUD. After its founding in early 1919, a discussion about the role of girls and women in the union started. The male-dominated organization had at first ignored gender issues, but soon women started founding their own unions, which were organized parallel to the regular unions, but still formed part of the FAUD. Witkop was one of the leading founders of the Women's Union in Berlin in 1920. On 15 October 1921, the women's unions held a national congress in Düsseldorf and the Syndicalist Women's Union (SFB) was founded on a national level. Shortly thereafter, Witkop drafted Was will der Syndikalistische Frauenbund? (What Does the Syndicalist Women's Union Want?) as a platform for the SFB. From 1921, the Frauenbund was published as a supplement to the FAUD organ Der Syndikalist, Witkop was one of its primary writers.
Witkop reasoned that proletarian women were exploited not only by capitalism like male workers, but also by their male counterparts. She contended therefore that women must actively fight for their rights, much like workers must fight capitalism for theirs. She also insisted on the necessity of women taking part in class struggle and that housewives could use boycotts to support this struggle. From this, she concluded the necessity of an autonomous women's organization in the FAUD. Witkop also held that domestic work should be deemed equally valuable to wage labor.
Mujeres Libres (English: Free Women) was an anarchist women's organization in Spain that aimed to empower working-class women. It was founded in 1936 by Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Mercedes Comaposada and Amparo Poch y Gascón and had approximately 30,000 members. The organization was based on the idea of a "double struggle" for women's liberation and social revolution and argued that the two objectives were equally important and should be pursued in parallel. In order to gain mutual support, they created networks of women anarchists. Flying day-care centres were set up in efforts to involve more women in union activities.
The organization also produced propaganda through radio, traveling libraries and propaganda tours in order to promote their cause. Organizers and activists traveled through rural parts of Spain to set up rural collectives and support for women. To prepare women for leadership roles in the anarchist movement, they organized schools, women-only social groups and a women-only newspaper to help women gain self-esteem and confidence in their abilities and network with one another to develop their political consciousness. Many of the female workers in Spain were illiterate and the Mujeres Libres sought to educate them through literacy programs, technically oriented classes and social studies classes. Schools were also created for train nurses to help injured in emergency medical clinics. Medical classes also provided women with information on sexual health and pre and post-natal care. The Mujeres Libres also created a woman run magazine to keep all of its members informed. The first monthly issue of Mujeres Libres was published on May 20, 1936 (ack 100). However, the magazine only had 14 issues and the last issue was still being printed when the Spanish Civil War battlefront reached Barcelona, and no copies survived. The magazine addressed working-class women and focused on "awakening the female conscience toward libertarian ideas".
Lucía Sánchez Saornil was a Spanish anarchist, feminist and poet, who is best known as one of the founders of Mujeres Libres. She served in the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista (SIA). By 1919, she had been published in a variety of journals, including Los Quijotes, Tableros, Plural, Manantial and La Gaceta Literaria. Working under a male pen name at a time when homosexuality was criminalized and subject to censorship and punishment, she was able to explore lesbian themes. In the 1930s, she was an outspoken voice for women and against defining women by their reproductive capacity.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Paterson, New Jersey, was a major center of the anarchist movement. Most of the anarchists in the area were Italian migrants who worked in the mills and women played an important role in the movement.
Northern Italian migrants Maria Roda, Ernestina Cravello and Ninfa Baronio founded Paterson's Gruppo Emancipazione della Donna (Women's Emancipation Group) in 1897. The group gave lectures, wrote for the anarchist press, and published pamphlets. They also formed the Club Femminile de Musica e di Canto (Women's Music and Song Club) and the Teatro Sociale (Social Theater). The Teatro performed plays which challenged Catholic sexual morality and called for the emancipation of women. Their plays stood in marked contrast to other radical works in which women were depicted as victims in need of rescuing by male revolutionaries. They often traveled to perform their plays, and connected with other Italian anarchist women in Hoboken, Brooklyn, Manhattan and New London, Connecticut. The Paterson group met regularly for about seven years and inspired other women to form similar groups. Their Southern Italian contemporaries included Elvira Catello in East Harlem, who ran a popular theater group and a radical bookstore; Maria Raffuzzi in Manhattan, who co-founded Il Gruppo di Propaganda Femminile (Women's Propaganda Group) in 1901; and Maria Barbieri, an anarchist orator who helped organize the silk workers in Paterson.
Anarchist Italian women such as Maria Roda flouted convention and Catholic teaching by rejecting traditional marriage in favor of "free unions". In practice, these unions often turned out to be lifelong and monogamous, with the division of labor falling along traditional lines. The anarchist writer Ersilia Cavedagni believed that "the woman is and will always be the educator of the family, that which has and will always have the most direct and the most important influence on the children".
In the pamphlet Anarchism: The Feminist Connection (1975), Peggy Kornegger uses three major principles to define anarchism:
She uses the example of an anarchist tradition in Spain leading to spontaneous appropriation of factories and land during the Spanish Civil War to highlight the possibility of collective revolutionary change, and the failure of the 1968 French strike to highlight the problems of inadequate preparation and left-wing authoritarianism. Kornegger links the necessity of a specifically feminist anarchist revolution not only to the subjection of women by male anarchists, but also to the necessity of replacing hierarchical "subject/object" relationships with "subject-to-subject" relationships.
The 1970s was characterized by the revival of the anarchist movement. During this era, the second wave feminist movement was occurring simultaneously, and from it came the development of anarcha-feminism. The term anarcha-feminism was first used in an August 1970 issue of It Aint Me Babe, the first comic book made entirely by women.
In a critique of Jo Freeman's essay "The Tyranny of Structurelessness", Cathy Levine stated that feminists often practiced anarchist organizing ethics in the 1970s, as "all across the country independent groups of women began functioning without the structure, leaders and other factotums of the male Left, creating independently and simultaneously, organisations similar to those of anarchists of many decades and locales". This was as a counter to dominant Marxist forms of organizing that were hierarchical and authoritarian.
A prominent example for this gives the founding of the Frauenzentrum Westberlin in 1973: "We simply skipped the step of a theoretical platform, which was a must in other groups. Even before this meeting there was a consensus, so that we didn't need a lot of discussion, because all of us had the same experience with left-wing groups behind us."
Cristina Perincioli states that it was the women of the Undogmatische Linke, "the Sponti [from spontaneous] women who (re-)founded the feminist movement. For that reason it is worth taking a closer look at anarchist theory and tradition", further explaining:
In the 1970s, the '68er movement split into many factions of a Leninist, revisionist or Maoist bent, each following their various dogmas. The membership numbers of the non-dogmatic left, in contrast, remained tiny, less than 1 percent of the overall Left. We had no dogmas, no pioneering thinkers and no leaders. How were we supposed to find out what would make political sense now? Which objectives were worth pursuing? How should we proceed? Among the dogmatists, all these questions were handled by a small leadership circle or even dictated by the GDR (German Democratic Republic) or China. We non-dogmatics sought inspiration elsewhere. For instance, we read the works of Frantz Fanon, the publications of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense the memoirs of the Russian-American anarchist Emma Goldman, and maintained contacts with French and Italian autonomous groups.
In the 1970s, the West German women's centers, cradle of all those feminist projects, were so inventive and productive because "[e]very group at the Berlin women's center was autonomous and could choose whatever field they wished to work in. The plenary never tried to regiment the groups. Any group or individual could propose actions or new groups, and they were welcome to realize their ideas as long as they could find enough people to help them. There was thus no thematic let alone political "line" that determined whether an enterprise was right and permissible. Not having to follow a line also had the advantage of flexibility". The Berlin women's center's info of 1973 stated: "We constantly and collectively developed the women's center's self-understanding. We therefore do not have a self-understanding on paper, but are learning together."
Autonomous feminists of the women's centers viewed the West German state with deep distrust. To apply for state funds was unthinkable (apart for a women's shelter). In the 1970s the search for terrorists would affect any young person active in whatever groups. Over years women's centers were searched by Police as well as cars and homes of many feminists. The West Berlin women's center went on a week-long hunger strike in 1973 in support of the women strike in prison and rallied repeatedly at the women's jail in Lehrter Straße. From this jail, Inge Viett escaped in 1973 and 1976.
In the West Berlin anarchist newspaper Agit 883, a Women's Liberation Front proclaimed in 1969 combatively that "it will raise silently out of the darkness, strike and disappear again and criticized the women who "brag about jumping onto a party express without realizing that the old jalopy has to be electrified first before it can drive. They've chosen security over the struggle".
Many women joined the Red Army Faction and the anarchist militant 2 June Movement. Neither of these terrorist groups showed feminist concerns. The women's group Rote Zora (split from the Revolutionäre Zellen) legitimized militance with feminist theory in the 1980s and attacked bioengineering facilities.
Queer anarchism is an anarchist school of thought that advocates anarchism and social revolution as a means of queer liberation and abolition of hierarchies such as homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia, heteronormativity, patriarchy, and the gender binary. People who campaigned for LGBT rights both outside and inside the anarchist and LGBT movements include John Henry Mackay, Adolf Brand and Daniel Guérin. Individualist anarchist Adolf Brand published Der Eigene from 1896 to 1932 in Berlin, the first sustained journal dedicated to gay issues.
Anarcha-feminist collectives such as the Spanish squat Eskalera Karakola and the Bolivian Mujeres Creando give high importance to lesbian and bisexual female issues. The Fag Army is a left-wing queer anarchist group in Sweden, which launched its first action on August 18, 2014, when it pied the Minister for Health and Social Affairs, Christian Democrat leader Göran Hägglund.
Sometimes it is argued that Ecofeminism developed out of the anarcha-feminist concerns for the abolition all forms of domination. However the focus of ecofeminism is broader in that it is ecocentric not anthropocentric, concerned equally with human domination and exploitation of the natural world. Both anarcha-feminism and ecofeminism stress the importance of political action.
In the 1970s, the impacts of post-World War II technological development led many women to organise against issues from the toxic pollution of neighbourhoods to nuclear weapons testing on indigenous lands. This grassroots activism emerging across every continent was both intersectional and cross-cultural in its struggle to protect the conditions for reproduction of Life on Earth. Known as ecofeminism, the political relevance of this movement continues to expand. Classic statements in its literature include Carolyn Merchant, USA, The Death of Nature; Maria Mies, Germany, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale; Vandana Shiva, India, Staying Alive: Women Ecology and Development; Ariel Salleh, Australia, Ecofeminism as Politics: nature, Marx, and the postmodern. Ecofeminism involves a profound critique of Eurocentric epistemology, science, economics, and culture. It is increasingly prominent as a feminist response to the contemporary breakdown of the planetary ecosystem.
Anarchism and feminism has been influenced by post-structuralism, post-colonial theory, critical race theory, and queer theory. However, a comprehensive anarcha-feminism perspective that considers all these theories has yet to exist. Because of this, Deric Shannon proposes a possible contemporary anarcha-feminism construction that engages all the listed theories. This proposal aims to mirror the different branches and diversity of anarchism and feminism.
One possible construction of contemporary anarcha-feminist construction would argue for "a world in which resources are distributed in a cooperative and egalitarian manner, rather than under our current system of capitalist tyranny." This construction will also "actively argue and fight for working class liberation from capitalism." It recognizes that marginalized groups need their own movements that address their specific needs alongside the overall movement. This anarcha-feminism also acknowledges that inherently hierarchical practices must be abolished to establish a non-hierarchical society.
Of course, the contemporary construction will oppose power and stand against domination. This opposition will be guided by post-structuralism, post-colonial, critical race, and queer theories. The new construction will avoid prioritizing one issue over another. Instead, it will recognize the intersectionality of all issues and aim to include all axes of oppression.
In a 2017 article, Chiara Bottici argues that anarcha-feminism has been the subject of insufficient discussion in public debate and in academia, due in part to a broader hostility to anarchism but also due to difficulties in distinguishing between anarcha-feminism and anarchism per se.
Bottici argues that the risk of economic reductionism that appears in Marxist feminism, in which women's oppression is understood solely in economic terms, "has ... always been alien to anarcha-feminism"; as such, she argues, anarchism is better suited than Marxism for an alliance with feminism.
Libertarias is a historical drama film made in 1996 about the Spanish anarcha-feminist organization Mujeres Libres. In 2010, the Argentinian film Ni dios, ni patrón, ni marido was released which is centered on the story of anarcha-feminist Virginia Bolten and her publishing of the newspaper La Voz de la Mujer (English: The Woman's Voice).