Sunday, 11 May 2008

Why I am a feminist

By Feminista Cat

Feminista is a member of the SLLU and the Scottish Socialist Party.

I was brought up in a family where feminism wasn't a dirty word, my grandma probably thought it was but never really said, but she was a matriarch and probably redefined it to mean that she was in charge. My grandad was a communist though had left the CPGB in the 50s he was sort of independent, trade unionist and very jaded.

My mum never married and I don't really know my father, she always worked. Though sometimes I think given her lone parentness to the detriment of our relationship, but I now understand she was stating her independence rather than be dependent - my mother was quite bohemian now when I look back on my childhood and adolescence I just wish I had understood that as a child when I wanted to be "normal".

My grandad and I were a great pair, I think I liberated him when I was born - he doted on me and gave me all of his time and in return I loved him unconditionally - everything he told me I took in and processed. He would talk to me as an adult and tell me of all his political arguments he had had and his friends - it was almost like an adventure story. I grew up wanting to live in the Soviet Union as it seemed like a fantasy world when my other friends wanted to live in America. He could tell great tall tales and I only worked that out when I got older. It was evident he loved my grandmother more than she loved him but he didn't seem to mind (well not in his 60s when I was born I was born in his 60th year).

My grandad was very clear he was a feminist and he could remember the Rent Strikes of Glasgow as a wee boy and the tanks conming to George's Square as he was there. His mother, a battered woman and mother to 8 children and step mother to 10 had been very organised in the rent strike - his mother died in 1920 in child birth to her 9th child. My grandad was taken into care after she died because of cruelty and neglect from his father! He and his brothers were looked after by the Christian Brothers confirming his atheism to the day he died. "They should of been called the Cruel Bastards" when he talked about them. My grandad was clear in order for me not to be oppressed as a woma was not to marry and to become an engineer and as a member of the working class to be in a trade union and involved in my community and to read, read, read. He used to do maths and arthemetic tests on me all the time by the time.

I was clear from about 12 I was going to become a geologist and study volcanoes and plate tectonics, travel the world and become an adventurer. In my religious phase I thought I would become a missionary at the same time perhaps even a nun!

I went to uni for 12 days (if he had still been alive I would have stayed, I know I would have but he died the day after my 18th birthday the year before).

I went to Manchester in 1990 when the Poll Tax was in full flight and got involved at the Pankhurst Women's Centre - it was full of anarchists and Labour party Women. I actually thought they were a bit mad (and I think I was right) but I wanted to get involved in politics so I stuck it out. I was attracted to the anarchist feminists more than the Labour women, the Anarchist women were Radical Feminists, vegans and producing a fanzine called Subversive Sister - whilst I was never that impressed on a personal level, it allowed me to read a lot about feminism, anarchism and socialism. Most of it made no sense what so ever and I couldn't work out what was going on.

Then Sara Thornton got sent to prison for killing her violent husband, I had never felt such anger before at an injustice and I wrote to her, I then got involved in giving out leaflets and petitioning for her, it was at this time Militant had launched the Campaign Against Domestic Violence - I got really involved and later in 1992 joined SML. I suppose I got involved in more class and anti-racist politics after that and the feminist politics were more of a private thing.

I trained to be a social worker because I wanted to work with women experiencing violence and I have been lucky that I have been able to do that and better than that been able to develop a radical theoretical basis in social work (unfortunately I haven't been able to make the revolution grow very fast though there are small pockets).

Some women in the Militant used to meet as the Women's Bureau and we discussed the "women's question" in great detail. I started to read a lot about anthropology and paelo-anthropology. It became clear to me that class society was the patriarchy, it's the same thing, then is NO division.

Paleo-anthropology and archaeology suggests to us that the majority of the history of humanity humans lived together in peace and shared the resources, indeed there was a point in our history where they believe there was only 70,000 humans left on the planet but in working in partnership together they did not become extinct (70,000 makes you nearly extinct). There was little or no evidence that female humans were treated subordinately to male humans. There was sex-division in work and rituals but it didn't make one sex better off than the other.

If the bringing about of class society brought about the oppression of women and then as Marxists we are against class society as we believe it oppresses us i.e. alienates us from our true humanity then surely as Marxists we are against the double oppression of women via the patriarchy i.e. the rule of the father or men.

Once you start to look at the violations of women around the world and in our own communities presently and in history it becomes glaring. I have convinced many many women to become feminists including plenty that refused to become feminists as they believed in equality for everyone. But what equality? Equality is not a socialist demand. Liberation and emancipation is the demand. Feminism talks about that demand. Feminism probably is the wrong word, its about gender really and the oppressions and creations of the bipolarism of gender including how men are oppressed too.

Material circumstances shape your conciousness - the [Tommy] Sheridan Affair for me was like a belesha beacon. I think it is fair to say that Sheridan Affair had two effects on feminist ideas in the party. You either became hyper-sensitive to the misogyny of Sheridan, the press and his supporters (and even by some in the party) and it had a radicalising effect. Those that had ignored the patriarchy were reminded every day of it and felt oppressed more by the attitudes they were coming across as women rather than being working class. Tommy and Gail were allowed to smile outside court but the female comrades weren't. Gail could look like a film star but female comrades were castigated fro having summer dresses on. We were called witches, bitches, harridans and the rest. But the men were betrayed friends and comrades. We were accused of putting spells on men, of "manising", pussy whipping, being gender obsessed etc etc. Yet it was the women in court who were sexualised and abused - the men weren't. The treatment of Katrine and the other women was shocking.

Of course back in 2002 50:50 started it but it was in our programme, our manifestos and constitution - all 50:50 was was a mechanism to bring about something simple. However I think it was a scratch that turned into a festering sore (for some).

For some comrades in the SSP and now Solidarity and beyond they were repulsed by the gender divisions and took a reactionary point of view as it made them uncomfortable as it challenged their great leader who was a man. They chose to ignore the obvious gender part of the argument and debate and chose to go for the simplification of Murdoch Press vs Tommy our great leader/Great socialist, that was safe and made better sense than the complications of gender, ethics, morality etc. They chose to see it as a class battle and in doing so ignored the impact of Tommy, the press and themselves on women. I have argued with myself whether Gail is a victim of abuse/liberated woman making complex choices in a difficult situation, I continue to swing between loathing of her and care and concern. I wonder how those in Solidarity and beyond see her - courageous and strong or "standing by her man rightly or wrongly".

The criticism of the left in the 70s and 80s that lead to the women organised in the left being excluded from conferences and discussions is that they put "party first" that under pressure they resorted to an over simplification it was about "capitalism" and "class". However without the class analysis feminism has become the guardianship of the NGOs and academics. Which is neither liberating or emancipating indeed has turned violence against women into a charity. There was much bleating of the liberal do-gooders about a donkey sanctuary getting 5 times more that charities dealing with domestic abuse and my position on that is quite right too. Donkeys should be cared for by charitable organisations, women and children affected by domestic abuse should be cared for by everybody and until something better comes along by the state contributing either directly or indirectly to government services services and NGOs offering support, refuge, advocacy and recovery. You can't compare donkeys to women!!!

The SSP isn't actually influenced by radical feminism of the 70s, I think it is influenced by feminism today. I think many of us are becoming Radical Feminists but not like the Radical Feminists of the past. I think the SSP is rejecting post-modernism (and I think that is a good thing) and in rejection of post modernism you have to ask the question - why are women experiencing this level of violence, why are they still paid less than men, why do women get left with the caring responsibility, why are there so many single women bring up children. Where are the men and what are they doing?

For me I am revolutionary in my feminism, quite a lot of the feminism around us is coming from NGOs and academics and there is not a good class analysis, we need to bring that to the women who are being radicalised. You can see that in the debates around abortion, all the campaigns demand - abortion on demand (or on choice) and that it should be legal and safe but rarely raise that it must be free at the point of need for ALL women. Free at the point of need is a socialist demand. Without socialists getting involved this demand will be lost.

I have campaigned for 18 years against men's violence towards women and I guess I will do it til the day I die. I have worked in the field of domestic abuse trying to advocate a radical social work approach to men's violence towards women rather than systemic one that blames women and ignores men however it reflects society and it seems to me the SSP reflects society too rather being radical- I am getting there but it is an uphill struggle as social work and the helping agencies want women to be saints and mothers and not ordinary women dealing with difficult lives and complex choices.

I just can't separate my feminism from my socialism - I just don't think it is possible. And I wonder how others do? I am a radical, a radical socialist and a radical feminist. And I think you should be too.

Cat xx

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wildo said...

Great article !
maybe if i got some time i will translate it and put it on my french blog. All the best to the SLLU group.

Second Life Left Unity said...

Go ahead, Wildo. Cat is a great activist and writer in rl. I'll post her blog details later.